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A study on correlation between microbial decay and accumulation of sulfur and iron in shipwreck timbers of oak.

Conference paper
Authors Yvonne Fors
Charlotte Björdal
Published in Proceedings of the ICOM Group on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials Conference
ISBN 9789290124368
Publisher Interntional Council of museums, Committee for conservation (ICOM-CC)
Place of publication Lulu
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of marine sciences
Department of Conservation
Language en
Subject categories Biological Sciences, Analytical Chemistry


Abstract The presence of sulfur and iron compounds in waterlogged archaeological shipwreck timbers excavated from the sea has been given scientific attention during the last 25 years. The contaminants have led to complications for both the wood conservation treatments and later on when displayed in a museum environment. The aim of this study was to further understand the process of accumulation of sulfur and iron in waterlogged archaeological wood. Results from previous laboratory experiment suggested that accumulation of reduced sulfur and iron compounds were associated to the wood decay process. Our hypothesis was that accumulation of sulfur and iron follows the wake of microbial degradation, and is therefore indirectly related to the decay process of wood in marine environment. In order to test the hypothesis and confirm the laboratory studies on modern wood, two samples from recently excavated shipwreck timbers were analysed. The distribution of sulfur and iron were mapped by non-destructive scanning X-ray Fluorescence (XRF), and observations on microbial degradation were carried out by light microscopy. The result confirms a correlation between microbial degradation of the wood and presence of sulfur and iron in the wood.

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