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Correlation between sulfur accumulation and microbial wood degradation on shipwreck timbers

Journal article
Authors Charlotte Björdal
Yvonne Fors
Published in International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation
Volume 140
Pages 37-42
ISSN 0964-8305
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of marine sciences
Pages 37-42
Language en
Keywords Marine; Shipwreck; wood; Biodegradation; sulfur; Iron; Accumulation; Light microscopy; X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) scanning
Subject categories History, Archaeology, Wood Science, Sedimentology, Other Earth and Related Environmental Sciences, Microbiology


Archaeological shipwreck timber often contains elevated amounts of sulfur and iron rich compounds, accumulated during the long-term exposure in marine environments. This paper investigates if the accumulation of iron and sulfur is correlated and restricted to areas where microbial wood degradation takes place. Examination of microbial degradation in two pine and four oak samples from three historical shipwrecks situated in the Baltic Sea are carried out by light microscopy. Type, degree and amount of wood degradation by fungal and bacterial processes is compared to results on sulfur and iron accumulation studied by X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) scanning. The highest accumulation of iron and sulfur is found in the surface layers (0–2 cm), where microbial degradation is also most intense. A novel finding is that both decay by erosion bacteria- and soft rot fungi promotes accumulation. Our results also imply that accumulation of inorganic sulfur and iron in archaeological wood involves several different processes which might include solely chemical as well as biogeochemical processes. The processes are different in pine compared to oak and the wood species of the shipwreck timber might therefore have a more important role than previously assumed.

Page Manager: Webmaster|Last update: 9/11/2012

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