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Fig. 1: µ-X-ray-computed tomography of an early medieval sword hilt. Virtual section of a beech wood sample (Foto: J.Stelzner, LAD).

Fig. 2: µ-X-ray-computed tomography of beech wood, cross section (Foto: J.Stelzner, LAD).

Fig. 3: µ-X-ray-computed tomography of beech wood, tangential section (Foto: J.Stelzner, LAD).

Fig. 4: µ-X-ray-computed tomography of beech wood, radial section (Foto: J.Stelzner, LAD).

Fig. 5: µ-X-ray-computed tomography of a wooden fragment from a Stone Age context. Collapsed areas are visible in the conserved wood structure (Foto: J.Stelzner, LAD).

Fig. 6: Image in the transmitted light microscope. Cross section of Roman oak wood (Foto: I.Stelzner/R.Lenz, abk–).

Fig. 7: Image in the reflected light microscope. Cross section of Roman oak wood. The UV-light activates the lignin-rich components of the cell wall (Foto: I.Stelzner/R.Lenz, abk–).

Fig. 8: Image in the scanning electron microscope. Cross section of highly degraded oak wood from a Stone Age context (Foto: I.Stelzner, abk–).

Fig. 9: Overview of the scientific collection of archaeological wood samples from the KUR project (Foto: Volker Iserhardt und René Müller, RGZM).


CuTAWAY – Conservation and Wood Analyses

In the temperate zone archaeological wood finds can be preserved under exclusion of oxygen over millennia. Without conservation the finds disintegrate within a few hours after their recovery. Conservation measures are a prerequisite for the preservation of such find material. Questions concerning conservation methods, such as the effects of the process, their long-term stability and whether the preservatives used permit non-destructive analysis of the wood structure have not yet been sufficiently clarified.

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Wood has excellent material properties and is readily available. Therefore it has been used frequently in prehistoric times. In most cases, the organic material has decayed during burial but where wood has been preserved it plays a key role in archaeological research. The woody taxon used, the function of the object and information concerning the environment can be gained from the analysis of wooden objects. Moreover, precise dating is possible using dendrochronology. Therefore, the conservation of archaeological wooden objects, which are mainly preserved as waterlogged finds, is of great importance. A plethora of methods and conserving agents are currently applied to conserve archaeological waterlogged wood. In order to compare the various treatments different conservation methods have been applied on about 800 archaeological wooden samples in the framework of a project organized by the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz (RGZM) and funded by KUR (Kulturstiftung des Bundes und der Länder. This reference collection will be analysed in order to quantify results of the conservation treatment (shrinkage, collapse and cracks) and the impact of the conservation method employed on investigations of archaeological wood (wood anatomy and dendrochronology).

The comparative analysis will be carried out using non-destructive, three dimensional methods, such as 3D-Scan und X-ray computed tomography and microscopic techniques. Additionally, the study of the samples aims at the optimisation of analytical and conservation methods to enable documentation of characteristic features of wood anatomy after conservation. By this means, the penetration of the conservation material and the effectiveness of the method will be recorded in detail in order to arrive at conclusions about the success of the conservation treatment.

Long-term stability will be analysed and evaluated by simulated aging tests on conserved wooden samples. The results will be documented in the KUR database with open access, and will in this way guarantee that archaeological wooden artefacts can be better studied and conserved for future generations.


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

Schweizer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (SNF)