Bournemouth University

School of Conservation Sciences

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Partnership Boost for Marine Archaeology Research

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Paola Palma and Italian colleagues Paola Palma, Lecturer in Marine Archaeology

A BU marine archaeology expert has been awarded a grant from the British Council to connect her work more closely with colleagues in Italy.

The grant, received through the British-Italian Partnership Programme, links Paola Palma with Dr Nicola Macchioni and his colleagues from the Centre for National Research - IVALSA (CNR) in Florence.

As project leader, Palma is initiating an international research partnership to focus on archaeological wood degradation.  Dr Macchioni, leader of the Centre, is one of the world’s leading experts in this field.

“I’m very pleased to receive this prestigious grant which will help to raise our international profile and provide strong connections with these leading specialists,” says Palma, Lecturer in Marine Archaeology and Programme Leader of BU’s unique Masters programme in Maritime Archaeology.

Wood samples taken by BU experts from historic wrecks off the South Coast of England will be analysed as part of the project. These include samples from the 17th century Swash Channel shipwreck just off the Dorset coast which Palma and her colleagues are paying particular attention to at the moment.

“The mapping and analysis of archaeological wood, particularly its rate of degradation, is absolutely vital if we are to understand how best to preserve and restore our maritime heritage,” said Palma.

Together with fellow BU expert Dave Parham, Palma believes that Britain’s coast is under threat from a highly destructive species of warm water shipworm detected on the Swash Channel wreck. They believe the creature poses a major threat to the wreckage and to other timber structures all along Britain’s coast.
Last summer, students and staff diving on the Swash Channel wreck recovered a rare carving of a ‘merman’ which showed the presence of the shipworm (‘Lyrodus pedicellatus’). Despite the importance of the carving as an artefact, Palma and her colleagues believe that the discovery of the shipworm could prove to be a more important find. Working with English Heritage, Palma is currently monitoring the wreck and experimenting with a number of underwater preservation techniques to secure its future.
“The presence of this type of shipworm off the South coast of England can be interpreted as an indication of global warming as typically this specimen lives in more temperate waters,” she said. “If this species of shipworm continues to spread it poses a major threat to all submerged wooden structures around the British coast, including jetties and piers, as well as our underwater heritage.”
Palma previously recorded the same invasive creature on the historic wreck of the Mary Rose in Portsmouth. A similar problem is facing Venice, where a collaborative project is in development with a number of organisations – including BU – to evaluate the best options for replacing old and degraded wooden pilings in the historic Italian city.
The Swash Channel wreck, now licensed to the Poole Harbour Commission, is believed to date from the early 1600s, though its exact country of origin remains unknown.
The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) placed Bournemouth as the number one new university for Archaeology research.

The Centre for Archaeology, Anthropology & Heritage based in the School of Conservation Sciences is BU’s focal point for Archaeology research. The Centre had 10% of its work rated as 4* in the RAE signifying research at the highest level internationally.

Overall, the RAE saw BU emerge as the fourth most improved University in the UK.  Moreover, 80% of Bournemouth’s research submissions to this year’s RAE contained ‘world leading’ research of the very highest level of international standing.