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Lowri-RobertsAs Maritime Archaeology students, we were lucky to have the option of having one of our units, Management of Underwater Cultural Heritage, either at Bournemouth University or at the IVALSA trees and timer institute in Florence, Italy. No brainer, we chose Italy (sorry Bournemouth). Dr Nicola Macchioni, who is a timber specialist there, had visited the university earlier in the year to explain what the institute did and to arrange what we would be doing there.

The unit ran from 26 May until 1 June and during that time we had a series of lectures and lab time where we were able to put what we’d learnt into practice. We learnt about the chemical and physical aspects of wood and how the environment and what lives in that environment affects it, which is of course fundamental to our studies as wrecks are subjected to all these factors.

In the labs, we were given the chance to take several cross sections from archaeological and new wood of the same species to study them under the microscope and observe what remained after long periods of being submerged in water compared to new samples. We also worked out the maximum water content of the wood and the percentage of shrinkage once dried in the oven. We also chemically analysed the samples to see the actual levels of what remained. As well as this, we were shown some other projects being run by the institute. One in particular was the monitoring of submerged wood in order to observe the species attacking it and essentially living there, which I found extremely interesting.

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Here I am taking a cross section of a piece of wood.

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Marissa seeing interesting things!

Another project was the conservation of the Pisa shipwrecks found when the rail station was extended in 1998. We were lucky enough to see the conservation and reconstruction of the ships (which blew my mind!) while being taken around by the project manager. Definitely one of the best field trips while I’ve been at university… plus we got to see the leaning tower at the end of the day!

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One of the Pisa shipwrecks; already conserved and being put back together.

It wasn’t all work; we had the weekend to ourselves to explore beautiful Florence and if anyone has been thinking of going, take my advice and go. The city is beautiful; there’s so much to see but even walking around in circles is amazing and you constantly discover little gems like old frescos in a sunlit courtyard. The Duomo (cathedral) is undoubtedly the most spectacular building I’ve ever seen and I got to see Michelangelo’s David! On top of the sites, you have the food. Pastas, pizzas, gelatos… I could go on all day.

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The baptistery roof…

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…and the Duomo.

I feel like my eyes have been opened to a deeper understanding of the chemistry behind my field of study and how it affects the material I will come in to contact with in the future. I firmly believe it will benefit me in the future and give me an advantage over some others who have not been given such an opportunity. It was an amazing experience and I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the institute. I also feel like we have grown even closer as a course.  At the end of the week, we had a course dinner including all the lecturers from the institute and of course Paola Palma from Bournemouth University who was amazing enough to take us. A big thank you is owed to her!


By Lowri Roberts