ASSESSMENT OF DETERIORATION IN ARCHAEOLOGICAL WOOD FROM ANCIENT EGYPT
ROBERT A. BLANCHETTE, JOHN E. HAIGHT, ROBERT J. KOESTLER, PAMELA B. HATCHFIELD, & DORTHEA ARNOLD
The results from this study demonstrated that different forms of deterioration are prevalent in wood from archaeological sites in Egypt. Each type of decay has distinct morphological characteristics that enable identification by comparing them to model examples of decay processes. Additional information obtained during investigations that focus on physicochemical environmental factors may help to associate the different types of deterioration with specific environmental and substrate conditions. With this information, it appears possible to predict the type of wood deterioration that could be encountered in future excavations, allowing appropriate conservation schemes to be planned and implemented. For cultural properties already accessioned into museums, proper conservation methods need to be evaluated and tested for the different forms of deterioration common to these objects.
The results presented here call for some reevaluation of conventional storage methods for certain classes of organic materials. Organics have been typically housed at relative humidities around 50%. However, two factors prompt us to reconsider this estimate: the damaging effects of salts and alkaline materials present in some archaeological woods and the likelihood that fungi will become active at higher relative humidities. An understanding of the nature of these deterioration processes leads to the conclusion that certain archaeological wood collections should be housed at lower relative humidities than previously assumed. Increased knowledge of wood deterioration and interacting chemical, environmental, and physical factors should prove to be useful for continuing the development of new, improved methods for conserving archaeological wood.
The authors thank Peter Lacorara, assistant curator, Department of Egyptian, Nubian, and Ancient Near Eastern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for assistance in obtaining samples.