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Paola Palma

When Paola Palma, programme leader on our MSc Maritime Archaeology degree, starts to talk about her specialism, you can’t help but be enthralled by her passion. “I think I have the best job in the world,” she tells us with a beaming smile.

Paola has seen her expertise evolve and change over the years, due to the projects she has been involved with and the other specialists she has worked with. She is keen for her students to understand that you can’t work in the field of archaeology in isolation.

“It’s important that we have an open mind in what we do, understanding that we can’t work alone. We can be experts in a very small field, but we are totally incomplete without other people who have different areas of expertise, and from whom we can learn new things and grow, as professionals and individuals,” she states.

Her journey as a researcher is a wonderful example of this kind of collaboration in action. Paola originally came from Italy to the UK to study for a Master’s in Maritime Archaeology. While she was there, she volunteered, and was then employed, at the Mary Rose Museum, where she worked as a team member on a European project. It was here that she developed an interest in how shipwrecks degrade, and more specifically what biological factors affect the preservation of underwater cultural heritage sites.

“There is a lot of interest in this area from all over the world, now. You hear people talking about the changes in the environment and this is my niche area and has been for the last 15 years - specifically in relation to the preservation or degradation of shipwrecks and other underwater cultural heritage.

“I came to Bournemouth University to develop my work in this area, as it felt like the right environment for my research. When I was put in charge of the MSc in Maritime Archaeology, I spent a lot of time promoting it and developing the unit specifically designed for this particular field,” Paola explains.

“To my knowledge, back then we were the first university in the world to have a unit that specifically focused on how to manage the underwater cultural heritage in situ,” she enthuses. 

As well as running the Master’s course, conducting research on environmental changes affecting the preservation of archaeological sites underwater and on ancient shipbuilding technologies, Paola still finds time to get involved in community projects. She has given BU undergraduate and postgraduate students from archaeology, engineering and product design courses the opportunity to participate in the ShipWrEx project, which aims to study old shipbuilding technologies from the Mediterranean Sea with an experimental project. This in fact now entails building a vessel using traditional techniques which were studied on a 4th century Mediterranean shipwreck.

Working in conjunction with the Ancient Technology Centre, Paola has introduced experts in a wide variety of fields to contribute to the project, enhance the students' experience and inspire networking. “It’s been an incredible learning journey for everyone involved, not just the students. We’re all learning while we’re working together, which is an important part of my philosophy,” she reveals.

Paola also received around £140,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for another community outreach project called M.A.D. About the Wreck, which was described as "breaking new audience ground in presentation" by the Dorset Archaeological Awards, and praised for its outreach and public engagement. This outreach work involved many areas of the local community, including those who wouldn't normally be interested in maritime archaeology.

Another example of her outreach work involved working the the Bournemouth University Dementia Insitute to introduce maritime archaeology to people suffering from dementia, a project that Paola describes as "amazing and very rewarding."

“Every person [who has been involved in my projects] has contributed with a unique, precious and personal point of view, which has always, in one way or another, enriched me as well as the project,” she concludes.