Rickets in Mary Rose sailors could help with research into condition

Analysis has found sailors who were on board the Mary Rose suffered from rickets. Below, bottom shows a normal bone and the darker one, with rickets
Analysis has found sailors who were on board the Mary Rose suffered from rickets. Below, bottom shows a normal bone and the darker one, with rickets

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ANALYSIS of soldiers’ bones found on the Mary Rose ship has revealed signs of bone disease.

King Henry VIII’s flagship sank in the Solent in 1545, but can now be visited in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

racton man bones USE SMALL''***USE SMALL POOR***''Displayed are two bone specimens taken from sailors on board the Mary Rose, which sank in 1545. One bone (darker) has rickets and the other (lighter) does not. Some bones that appeared abnormal in shape were found to have rickets. The dark discolouration on the rickets infected bone is due to the effects of the conditions underwater.

racton man bones USE SMALL''***USE SMALL POOR***''Displayed are two bone specimens taken from sailors on board the Mary Rose, which sank in 1545. One bone (darker) has rickets and the other (lighter) does not. Some bones that appeared abnormal in shape were found to have rickets. The dark discolouration on the rickets infected bone is due to the effects of the conditions underwater.

More than 400 men died on the ship, but many of their remains have been preserved due to silt.

Now some of their bones have been analysed as part of a study by University College London, the Science and Technology Facilities Council and The Mary Rose Trust. Two sets of tibia bones were analysed with spectroscopy, which is laser technology, to identify evidence of bone disease.

Alex Hildred, curator of human remains at the Mary Rose Trust, said: ‘The trust has the responsibility for the remains of more than 179 individuals who perished with the ship.

‘Their provenance is absolute – they represent the crew of an English warship in July 1545.

‘The human remains have potential to make a contribution to the public through research, education, display and interpretation.

‘Their use to confirm the presence and prevalence of metabolic bone disease in the 16th century is one of these contributions.’

The bones given were a combination of one that appeared anatomically healthy and bones that were abnormal in shape.

The deformations in the abnormal bones were suspected to be due to a metabolic bone disease such as rickets – a condition that causes bones to become soft and weak due to vitamin D deficiency.

Dr Jemma Kerns, clinical study manager, said: ‘This is the first time this laser technology has been used to study bone disease in archaeological human bone.

‘We have identified chemical changes in the bones. There is strong evidence to suggest many of the sailors had suffered from childhood rickets and we hope to apply the technique to the study of modern day rickets.’