Archaeologist who helped to excavate the Mary Rose celebrates 40 years of work with the ship

AN ARCHAEOLOGIST who helped excavate King Henry VIII’s now-preserved Mary Rose will celebrate 40 years of work with the ship next month.

Dr Alexzandra Hildred. Picture: Sarah Standing (180319-2303)
Dr Alexzandra Hildred. Picture: Sarah Standing (180319-2303)

Museum bosses have hailed Dr Alexzandra Hildred’s ‘unrivalled commitment’ to the Tudor warship since joining efforts to investigate it in 1979.

As a supervisor, she helped a team of more than 500 volunteers to excavate the vessel in the Solent before it was eventually raised in 1982. 

Dr Hildred has worked with the ship ever since and is the head of research and curator of ordnance and human remains at the Mary Rose Trust.

On her milestone, Dr Hildred said: ‘When I arrived at the site of the Mary Rose excavation in 1979 with a degree in prehistory and archaeology and about 10 land excavations under my belt, I didn’t expect to stay more than the three week stint I had applied for, let alone 40 years.’ 

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The raising of the Mary Rose on October 11, 1982 remains the world’s largest underwater excavation.

On the day, Dr Hildred provided a link between diving operations and the world’s media – beaming information from the seabed in real-time.

She then became responsible for directing all work onsite, including excavations that led to finding and lifting the ship’s stem in 2005. 

Dr Hildred said: ‘With an average age of about 24 we were making the tools to undertake the job and writing the rule book as we went along.

‘Every day posed new challenges and often still does. Variety is the key, which is probably why I am still here.’ 

Since joining the Mary Rose, which is on display at the museum of the same name in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Dr Hildred has researched and published texts on weapons of the ship and helped manufacture and fire full-scale copies of its recovered guns. 

She has worked on other underwater sites, delivered undergraduate courses and served as chairman of the Institute of Field Archaeologists Maritime Affairs Group.

She has been nominated for her archaeological work on historic wreck sites Cattewater, in Pymouth Sound and Rooswijk off Deal, in Kent and  served as a member of the Government Advisory Committee on historic wreck sites.

Dr Hildred's 40th anniversary at the Mary Rose Museum falls on December 3.