Bournemouth University

School of Conservation Sciences

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BU Marine Archaeology experts uncover wreck

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Paola Palma Paola Palma examines the find  

Marine Archaeology experts from BU have uncovered a rare wooden carving from a 17th century shipwreck off the Dorset coast.

The carving of a ‘merman’ is a major discovery retrieved by students and staff from the Swash Channel near the entrance to Poole Harbour. But the presence of a warm water ship worm in both the carving and in timbers of the wreck that remain underwater could prove to be an even more important find.

Paola Palma (photographed above) and Dave Parham from Conservation Sciences believe that the highly desctructive species of ship worm they have detected - Lyrodus pedicellatus – poses a major threat to the wreckage and to other timber structures along Britain’s coast.

Over the last two years, Paola’s expertise has proved invaluable to English Heritage which commissioned her to perform an environmental scoping study for the stabilisation of the Swash Channel shipwreck. She has monitored the degradation of the wreck and is currently experimenting with a number of techniques to ensure its preservation. Just this week Paola presented a paper on the project at the World Archaeological Conference in Dublin.

“The presence of this type of borer can be interpreted as an indication of global warming as typically this specimen lives in more temperate waters, such as the Mediterranean,” says Paola who previously recorded the same invasive creature on the Mary Rose. “If this species of ship worm continues to spread at its current pace it poses a major threat to all submerged wooden structures around the British coast including jetties and piers, as well as to our underwater heritage.”

Undergraduate Marine Archaeology students from BU are mapping the wreck which emerged in 2004 following dredging work near the entrance to Poole Harbour. The wreck, now licenced to the Poole Harbour Commission, is believed to date from the early 1600s though its exact country of origin remains unknown.

“We’re grateful to the Poole Harbour Commission for funding our expeditions to date and to Jenkins Marine for transporting us to the wreck site,” says Dave Parham. “The site provides our students with a unique opportunity to gain the professional experience they will need for their later careers.”

The media has been particularly taken with the story. To date, articles have appeared in The Guardian and the Bournemouth Daily Echo and the story has featured on Meridian TV.

The story is also receiving attention from abroad with an initial piece appearing in Speigel Online with other features expected in the weeks to come.