Reconstructing Reconstructed Tombs

Continuing the theme of my post on the Cultural Heritage Initiative regarding the Mourners, a visual digital deconstruction of a Burgundian tomb from the late medieval era, a similar project is being undertaken by the University of Leicester. Like the Mourners, this project intends to use 3D imaging in order to create digital images of two tombs, however, they are going to use this information in a very unique way. In order to do this project, University of Leicester is bringing together a large collaborative team involving  space scientists, art-historians, archaeologists and museologists from Leicester,  Oxford, Yale, and English Heritage. The goal is to address how several tombs from the Tudor period were originally constructed using 3D modeling and undisclosed non-destructive analytical techniques.

The tombs of Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk (1554) and of Henry Fitzroy (1539), Duke of Richmond, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, were both moved from Thetford Priory to Framlingham Parish Church, where they currently reside. It has been hypothesized that due to this relocation both tombs were radically altered. The goal is to figure out how they were altered and what their original construction would have looked like.

Not only is this a boon for digital academia, but it can reveal a lot of very interesting information especially when combined with historical records. Excavations from Thetford in the 1930’s revealed missing pieces from these tombs. Combining the digital images of the current tomb, the missing pieces and the use of X-ray fluorescence (to determine the paint) will allow the tombs to be restored to their former glory. This is a very promising type of analysis, as we know many structures have been radically altered throughout their historic lives, through degradation, grave robbing, destructive cleaning, and vandalism. It will also tell us more about burial styles of the Tudor era once we know what the original tomb looked like. This may also tell us about style changes being able to discern the differences between the original commissioned tomb and the current state.

The million dollar question however is going to be why. Why was the tomb changed when it was moved, and is there any documentation of it? Are any pieces still missing? Given that this is towards the end of the relics era, perhaps pieces were removed for religious purposes. Hopefully once the changes are documented we can compare against other tombs to see if they have changed.

Past Horizons. 2010. http://www.pasthorizons.com/index.php/archives/12/2010/space-science-and-the-16th-century

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