Deterioration in Historic and Archaeological Wood

Our past research on microbial and enzymatic degradation of wood and wood components has provided a great deal of information that has been useful in helping to protect and conserve historic and archaeological wood. In addition to our investigations on biological and non-biological degradation processes in the expedition huts of Antarctica (link to Antarctic research), studies have been done or are currently underway with The Getty Conservation Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The American Museum of Natural History, the U. S. National Park Service, The Institute for Nautical Archaeology, as well as many archaeologists and conservators working to preserve wooden cultural properties around the world.

A few projects are listed here to demonstrate how our research is being used to better understand deterioration processes that affect ancient woods and to help preserve these national and international heritage sites long into the future. Our research is also providing important new information on the biology and ecology of these little known microorganisms that attack wood and other organic materials.

Ancient Egyptian Wood

Waterlogged Woods From Ancient Shipwrecks

Deterioration in Thomas Edison's Historic Laboratory

Tumulus MM - The Ancient Tomb of King Midas

Prehistoric Great Houses of the Southwestern United States

Research is underway at Chaco Culture National Historic Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico to assess the types and extent of deterioration currently occurring in the wood of the great houses, determine the wood species used in their construction and evaluate reburial methods currently being used to preserve some of the great houses that are rapidly deteriorating. Although the Chacoan great houses were made of mud brick, they also contained large quantities of wood in their construction. Tens of 1000s of trees were used for beams, secondary roof supports and door and window lintels. Today, these great houses have one of the largest samples of prehistoric wood left of any site in the American Southwest. In the West Ruin of Aztec Ruins National Monument alone, over 6000 pieces of wood still exist. The wood is an integral part of the surviving Chacoan architecture and has served as a valuable resource for determining the exact age of the structures and for obtaining information about raw material production, procurement and harvesting methods.

The reburial of archaeological sites as an effective conservation strategy to protect masonry structures and wood is currently being used to insure preservation of the Chacoan prehistoric structures for the future. For these programs to be successful, the agents responsible for deterioration and the reburial environment are being studied so that conservation plans will effectively prevent future biological and non-biological deterioration from taking place. These investigations, in cooperation with the Getty Conservation Institute and the National Park Service, will monitor the reburied sites over time to insure the environment is not conducive to decay and the buried wood is being protected from degradation.

For additional information on conservation of the prehistoric great houses, wood used in the structures and deterioration taking place see:
Blanchette, R. A., B. W. Held, J. A. Jurgens. 2004. Wood Deterioration in Chacoan Great Houses of the Southwestern United States. Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites 6:204-212.
Ford, D., M. Demas, N. Agnew, R. Blanchette, S. Maekawa, M. Taylor and K. Dowdy. 2004. Chaco Canyon reburial programme. Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites 6:177-202.

Follow this link for results from studies on wood identification in the Chacoan great houses