National Geographic : 1983 May
at 40-foot depth in The Solent. There she might lie to this day, but for the vision and energy of a man named Alexander McKee. He is a journalist, a scuba diver, and a military historian with a lifelong interest in historic ships. In 1965 McKee organized a search for underwater wrecks called Project Solent Ships, focusing on the coastal area off Portsmouth. Although I was strictly a land archaeologist at the time, I gladly accepted Alex McKee's invitation to join the group. Over the next six years we spent every available summer weekend exploring the bottom of The Solent for historic wrecks, us ing scuba divers and underwater detection gear such as magnetometers. Perhaps the greatest help in pinpointing the location of wrecks was use of Dr. Harold Edgerton's sub-bottom and side-scan sonar to survey wide areas of the seafloor. Although the search initially was aimed at wrecks of all kinds, the project gradually narrowed to finding Mary Rose. For one thing, she represented a key stage in evolu tion of the warship in northern Europe, be ing one of the earliest vessels built there to carry heavy ordnance and to be equipped with gunports so that her main batteries could be housed belowdecks. Moreover, Alex and I both believed that the massive buildup of silt around and with in Mary Rose would have preserved her to a remarkable degree. If we could excavate the ship, along with her ordnance, stores, tools, and the personal possessions of her crew, we would shed valuable new light on the Tudor period of England, an era that has left far too few tangible remains of everyday life. We had a series of winter storms to thank for our first actual glimpse of Mary Rose. In the fall of 1970 a team led by Alex McKee dredged up a 16th-century iron cannon near the point where our underwater detection instruments told us the wreck must lie. The following spring our divers went down and discovered that winter storms had laid bare the ends of several massive ship's timbers, which resembled a row of great blackened teeth. In all my years of archaeo logical exploration I can recall no more beautiful sight. The long search for Mary Rose was over.