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Waterlogged archaeological wood : biodegradation and its implications for conservation

Björdal Gjelstrup, Charlotte (2000). Waterlogged archaeological wood : biodegradation and its implications for conservation. Diss. (sammanfattning/summary) Sveriges lantbruksuniv., Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae. Silvestria, 1401-6230
ISBN 91-576-5876-5
[Doctoral thesis]

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Although archaeological wood found in waterlogged environments is often described as well preserved, microbial degradation has taken place.
Microscopic investigations revealed that despite different types of soil, water, sediment, pH, wood species, and age, archaeological wood was mainly degraded by erosion bacteria, even though soft rot and tunnelling bacteria decay was also occasionally observed. Erosion bacteria seem to be the only wood degrading micro-organisms active in near anaerobic environments. A weak skeleton consisting of the lignin rich compound middle lamella remains after decay and maintains the form and integrity of the historical wood, as long as it is kept waterlogged. Erosion bacteria and their attack of wood cell walls are described and illustrated in detail. Presence of active erosion bacteria in 1200 year old Viking poles, suggests that degradation is generally a slow process, that proceeds until all cellulose rich parts of the wood cell wall are utilised.
The results indicate that depth of deposition in historic times as well as in reburial situations today, is an important factor for successful preservation in nature. In laboratory experiments, it was found that both clay and sandy soils had an equal protective potential, and were significantly less aggressive to wood than top soil. However, 20 cm depth of burial in waterlogged soil did not prevent significant attack by soft rot fungi, but different cover sheets had some positive effect Long term effects of soil and cover protections are still unknown.
From observations on aerobic decay patterns in archaeological materials, valuable information can be obtained about the history of these objects before waterlogging. In active conservation situations, polyethylene glycol (PEG) in impregnation baths give rise to microbial growth at the liquid/air interface during immersion. However results indicate that the microbes present are not degrading the wood during treatment and therefore do not represent a threat for historical objects.
Knowledge on microbial degradation in wood, particularly waterlogged archaeological wood, is important for the development of passive and active conservation strategies in future in the interdisciplinary areas of conservation and archaeology.

Authors/Creators:Björdal Gjelstrup, Charlotte
Title:Waterlogged archaeological wood : biodegradation and its implications for conservation
Series Name/Journal:Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae. Silvestria
Year of publishing :2000
Number of Pages:70
Publisher:Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
ISBN for printed version:91-576-5876-5
Publication Type:Doctoral thesis
Article category:Other scientific
Version:Published version
Full Text Status:Public
Subjects:(A) Swedish standard research categories 2011 > 4 Agricultural Sciences > 401 Agricultural, Forestry and Fisheries > Wood Science
(A) Swedish standard research categories 2011 > 6 Humanities > 601 History and Archaeology > Archaeology
Keywords:archaeological wood, waterlogged, micro-organisms, degradation, erosion bacteria, conservation, archaeology, reburial, in situ preservation, PEG
Permanent URL:
ID Code:17757
Faculty:S - Faculty of Forest Sciences
Department:(S) > Institutionen för trävetenskap
Deposited By: SLUpub Connector
Deposited On:08 Oct 2020 13:47
Metadata Last Modified:28 Oct 2020 15:13

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