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Waterlogged archaeological wood: multi-analytical approach for decay diagnosis
and evaluation of conservation treatments


The Fourth Sled, one of the Viking artifacts from the Oseberg collection,
treated with alum in early 1900s


Wooden artifacts from past societies provide information on culture and technology in the past. Their chemo-physical investigation and the comprehension of occurred and on-going decay processes is the first step towards assessing the best conservation strategies.
Our research on archaeological and historical wooden objects, in cooperation with Milano Bicocca Unit, is focused on the application of different analytical techniques to the study of wood components and the materials added in the conservation treatments. In particular, we use:
• Scanning electron microscopy (SEM-EDX) to obtain information on morphology, wood species, degradation state, effects of consolidation treatments and distribution of metals.
• X-ray diffraction (XRD) and X-ray microtomography (΅-CT) to understand the structure of wood at cellular level, highlight the presence of heteroatoms and to map wood sections with a micrometric resolution;
• infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR) and synchrotron radiation ΅FTIR to investigate lignocellulosic polymers and inorganic salts;
• nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to obtain information on degradation state, porosity and distribution of water;
• analytical pyrolysis coupled with gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS) to distinguish different kinds of wood, analyze wooden components (lignin and cellulose), evaluate the degradation state at semi-quantitative level.
The combination of analytical approaches aims to the understanding of the chemical and physical processes occurring during degradation, with the final aim to to develop and apply suitable conservation treatments.
The research activity is carried out in connection with two European projects: ArCo-Ageing Study of Treated Composite Archaeological Waterlogged Artefacts (2013 – 2015, JPI-JHEP Joint Pilot Transnational Call for Joint Research Projects on Cultural Heritage) and Saving Oseberg (2014-2016, funded by the Norwegian State and the University of Oslo). These projects deal with the problem of archaeological wood contaminated by unstable salts due to the burial environment and/or applied treatments. We also cooperate with the University of Life Science, Faculty of Wood Technology, Institute of Chemical Wood Technology, Poznań (Poland), regarding the archaeological site of Biskupin (Poland).

Published papers
• D. Tamburini, J.J. Łucejko, F. Modugno, M.P. Colombini, Characterisation of archaeological waterlogged wood from Herculaneum by pyrolysis and mass spectrometry, International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation 86 (2014) 142-149
• Diego Tamburini, Jeannette Jacqueline Lucejko, Francesca Modugno, Maria Perla Colombini, Pasquino Pallecchi, Gianna Giachi, Microscopic techniques (LM, SEM) and a multi-analytical approach (EDX, FTIR, GC/MS, Py-GC/MS) to characterise the decoration technique of the wooden ceiling of the House of the Telephus Relief in Herculaneum (Italy)", Microchemical Journal, 2014, 116, 7-14.


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