Thursday, 10 April 2014
An interesting project is underway at Bournemouth University to develop a national and international database about shipworms. Project leader is Paola Palma, programme leader in MSc Maritime Archaeology at Bournemouth University, whose research interests include the monitoring, degradation, and preservation of Underwater Cultural Heritage. The boring molluscs of the Teredinidae family, commonly known as shipworms, are notorious for the high level of damage they cause in wooden ships and other structures in the marine environment. Indeed the destructive potential of shipworm, especially to archaeological wood, is often underestimated. Internally, attacked timbers may be thoroughly honeycombed although externally the wood may look intact.
But shipworms are not a recent problem. They were a well-known problem to all ancient mariners because of the damage they caused to the hulls of ships. In fact it was such a big issue that even poets and historians like Ovid and Pliny were writing about it in Roman times. Different approaches were taken to try and solve the problem – such as “covering the keel with a sacrificial timber called a 'worm shoe', and sheathing the hulls with lead or copper. Other attempts to remove the problem include painting the hull with tar, or lime and fish oil, or when possible, ships were run upriver into fresh water where all marine growth and borers would die in a few days. Despite these efforts and more, a huge number of ships were wrecked, across the centuries, due to shipworms attack.
With the wreck of the Flying Foam lying on the west shore, Llandudno, it will be an interesting investigation to see if the timbers are subject to any of this type of degradation.
Two ways to check this out. First a visual inspection of the timbers, and then some microscope work, of small timber samples by Paola in Bournemouth. We are hoping to write a short paper on our findings.