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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 August, 2004, 05:44 GMT 06:44 UK
Divers tackle Mary Rose jigsaw
By David Fuller
BBC News Online, Portsmouth

Archaeologist diving on the site
Archaeologists have been diving on the site for over two weeks
It is an underwater jigsaw puzzle - complicated by the fact that the picture on the box bears little resemblance to reality.

A team of marine archaeologists has been working for weeks to find and recover the lost front section of the Mary Rose from beneath metres of silt in the Solent.

Every new find on the dive site has the potential to change our understanding of Henry VIII's sunken flagship.

The only contemporary drawing of the Mary Rose has already been found to owe more to artistic licence than historical fact.

Only when all the wreckage has been traced, recovered and measured will the team begin to know for sure what the pride of the Tudor king's navy looked like.

See recent pictures from the dive site

When the first sign of the bow of the ship was first found last May, it was described as "the most important maritime archaeology find in England in the last 20 years".

It has been a huge operation, with no-one knowing what, if anything, would be found beneath the silt.

"It's very exciting and unique - there isn't another bow of a Tudor warship around," maritime archaeologist Christopher Dobbs told BBC News Online.

"It is a unique ship from a revolutionary period of warship design - nothing else from the period has been found - and these are the final pieces of the jigsaw."

Mr Dobbs has been working on the Mary Rose project since 1979 and was part of the original team which oversaw the recovery of the main section of the vessel.

He was under the water while the famous shots of the warship surfacing on its yellow cradle - seen by an estimated 60 million people - were taken over 20 years ago.

We have a puzzle on our hands now to work it out - and we won't know for sure for some time
David Childs
Mary Rose Trust
"To actually go out to the site and dive and find things again and remember those amazing times from 1982 is very exciting - to be discovering things again.

"You never know what you're going to find - we could have found very little - but buried deep in the silt we are getting timbers that are in pristine condition."

The archaeologists have been putting in dives of up to two hours, 60 feet down on - and below - the sea floor.

"It's been hard work, some dives are 100 minutes of hard digging," Mr Dobbs said.

The main body of the Mary Rose
The main body of the ship is kept protected in Portsmouth
The missing bow section was missed during the excavations 20 years ago, because it was just 20cm outside the search area.

The main bow timber has turned out to be at least twice as long as expected, leading to speculation that the vessel could have been longer than previously thought.

"We have a puzzle on our hands now to work it out - and we won't know for sure for some time," said David Childs of the Mary Rose Trust.

With visibility excellent, the diving team has found 40 new timbers, including 10 of the timber ribs making up the lower part of the bow.

Some of the timbers have been brought to the surface to be held in conservation tanks, while many of the larger items are marked and catalogued before being reburied in the silt.

They will be recovered at a later date when they can be properly stored.

The team is still looking for the final piece in the Mary Rose puzzle - the heavily fortified forecastle.

It is not known what forecastle looks like - but the team hopes the way it broke away from the vessel means it will have been preserved almost intact.

Mary Rose factbox
1 Movement of tide creates vortices at bow and stern of ship, which erode the silt, forming hollows.
2 As the supporting silt is eroded, the fortified forecastle snaps and falls into hollow.
3 Tidal flows create new layers of silt, which cover up the broken segment.

The first picture of the Mary Rose was painted in 1547, two years after the vessel sank, probably overloaded, as she sailed from Portsmouth.

The artist painted all her cannon on one side of the vessel, and also gave her an extra deck.

"Let's call it artistic licence - it was a propaganda drawing - showing the might of the king," said Mr Childs.

The three-week dive will end on Friday, and only then will the jigsaw puzzle begin in earnest.

Divers return to Mary Rose site
29 Jul 04  |  Hampshire/Dorset
In pictures: New Mary Rose find
18 Aug 03  |  Photo Gallery
Mary Rose divers' 'exciting' find
18 Aug 03  |  Hampshire/Dorset
New discovery at Mary Rose site
17 Aug 03  |  Hampshire/Dorset
Mary Rose experts to raise ship
04 Apr 03  |  Wales
Raising of Mary Rose is remembered
11 Oct 02  |  England

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