The Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth

With the 40th anniversary of the raising of the wrecked Tudor flagship Mary Rose approaching this autumn, the Portsmouth-based museum dedicated to the vessel is trialling immersive new approaches to illuminating its archaeology. Carly Hilts visited to find out more.

As I touched the screen of my borrowed tablet, the Tudor cannon beneath my fingertips glowed slightly before firing with a dramatic bang. In the same moment, a puff of air from the special backpack I was wearing immersed me in the smell of gun smoke. The combined effect was extremely atmospheric – all part of an augmented reality (AR) experience that the Mary Rose Museum is trialling over the summer.

The Time Detectives app immerses users in the sights, sounds, and smells of life on board the Mary Rose. Image: Mary Rose Museum.

Time Detectives: the mystery of the Mary Rose casts visitors in the role of Henry VIII’s investigator, tasked with finding out why the king’s favourite flagship sank with the loss of most of its crew in 1545. Hailed as the world’s first multisensory AR trail-based game, it encourages users to explore the museum’s galleries using their smartphone as a ‘magical spyglass’ to interact with the displays, accompanied by a ‘scent pack’ that releases a cloud of relevant aromas – sea breezes, gunpowder, beer – at key moments. Participants are challenged to seek out specific artefacts and reconstruction drawings of individuals: images of the cook, the carpenter, and the master gunner come to virtual life when scanned, passing on new clues or tasks, while objects become interactive.

Ahead of the raising of the ship’s hull in 1982, investigations of the wreck site recovered almost 20,000 artefacts, as well as the remains of 179 individuals (see CA 272). This wealth of archaeological evidence feeds into every aspect of the game. The creator of Time Detectives, Picture This Productions director Charlotte Mikkelborg, worked with Dr Alex Hildred, the Mary Rose Museum’s Head of Research, and Dr Hannah Platts, a historian in multisensory research from the University of Holloway, to weave in this excavated evidence.

The characters’ dialogue is based on historical records and archaeological discoveries, and isotope analysis of some of the recovered remains influences the voices you hear, including West Country and Spanish accents. DNA evidence from one young man who proved to be of North African descent also features in the game, in the form of ‘Henry’, a young caulker who helps to guide you in your quest.

Trials of the app (scent packs are coming soon) are running through the summer to see how popular the experience is, whether it impacts on other visitors, and whether people playing the game still look at the other displays.

Nor is this the only cutting-edge technology that the museum has recently installed. A new ‘holofan’ animation – created with the University of Portsmouth’s Centre for Creative and Immersive Extended Reality – uses strips of LED lights on four blades that turn at high speed to produce a holographic-like image. The result is a floating 3D model of the ship as it would have looked when complete.

Further information
The Mary Rose Museum is part of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, and is open April-October 10am-5.30pm daily, and November-March 10am-5pm daily.

Time Detectives is available at the museum, and can also be downloaded for remote play (without scent!) from the iOS App Store and Google Play Store. The app costs £4.99; see www.maryrose.org/time-detectives for more details.