DNA reveals origins of stored cod from the wreck of the Mary Rose

Sinking of the the Mary Rose

A study led by researchers from the Universities of Hull, Cambridge and York has revealed the origins of cod bones from the Mary Rose, a Tudor warship which sank off Portsmouth in 1545.

DNA from the cod bones indicates the fish in the ship’s stores had been caught in surprisingly distant waters: the northern North Sea and the fishing grounds of Iceland, despite England having well developed local fisheries by the 16th century.

Test results from one of the sample bones have led researchers to suspect that some of the stored cod came from as far away as Newfoundland in eastern Canada.

The University of Hull team, led by Dr Bill Hutchinson with co-investigators Dr Bernd Hänfling and Dr Lori Handley and research assistant Dr Mark Culling, carried out the genetic analysis.

“Recent technological advances now allow us to exploit even the smallest remains of DNA to address a wide range of scientific questions”, explains Dr Hänfling.

“The challenge in this particular project was to analyse bones from archaeological excavations across a large geographical scale to provide the baseline data for possible sources of the Mary Rose samples.”

Cod bones used in the study.

Cod bones used in the study.

The research team say that the findings show how naval provisioning played an important role in the early expansion of the fish trade overseas, and how that expansion helped fuel the growth of the English navy.

They say that commercial exploitation of fish and the growth of naval sea power were “mutually reinforcing aspects of globalisation” in Renaissance Europe.

The study was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, on 9th September.

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