Assessment of biodegradation in ancient archaeological wood from the Middle Cemetery at Abydos, Egypt

Ahmed M. Abdel-Azeem, Benjamin W. Held, Janet E. Richards, Suzanne L. Davis, Robert A. Blanchette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Abydos is a large, complex archaeological site located approximately 500 km south of Cairo in Upper Egypt. The site has served as a cemetery for thousands of years and is where most of the Early Dynastic royal tombs are located. North Abydos includes the Middle Cemetery and the North Cemetery, which are separated from each other by a Wadi. The Middle Cemetery was the burial ground for important Sixth Dynasty (2407–2260 BC) officials and over time for thousands of elite and non-elite individuals as well. Excavations at the core area of the Old Kingdom mortuary landscape have revealed many culturally important wooden objects but these are often found with extensive deterioration that can compromise their preservation. The objectives of this study were to characterize the biodegradation that has taken place in excavated wooden objects, elucidate the type of wood degradation present, obtain information on soil properties at the site and identify fungi currently associated with the wood and soils. Light and scanning electron microscopy studies were used to observe the micromorphological characteristics of the wood, and culturing on different media was done to isolate fungi. Identification of the fungi was done by examining morphological characteristics and extracting rDNA from pure cultures and sequencing the ITS region. Wooden objects, made from Cedrus, Juniperus and Acacia as well as several unidentified hardwoods, were found with extensive degradation and were exceedingly fragile. Termite damage was evident and frass from the subterranean termites along with sand particles were present in most woods. Evidence of soft rot attack was found in sections of wood that remained. Fungi isolated from wood and soils were identified as species of Aspergillus, Chaetomium, Cladosporium, Fusarium, Penicillium, Stemphylium Talaromyces and Trichoderma. Results provide important information on the current condition of the wood and gives insights to the identity of the fungi in wood and soils at the site. These results provide needed information to help develop conservation plans to preserve these degraded and fragile wooden objects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0213753
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funded by AMA, Science and Development Technology Fund in Egypt (STF project No. 12295). JR, Antiquities Endowment Fund grant from the American Research Center in Egypt. https://www. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The authors thank the Permanent Committee of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt and the Egypt Director General of the Secretariat of the Council of Museums Sector Management, Supreme Council of Antiquities for their assistance. The authors also would like to thank Claudia Chemello, Pamela Hatchfield, Harriet Beaubien and Greg Smith for their assistance at Abydos.

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Assessment of biodegradation in ancient archaeological wood from the Middle Cemetery at Abydos, Egypt'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this