Preservation of fungi in archaeological charcoal

M. Moskal-del Hoyo, M. Wachowiak, R. A. Blanchette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


During the analysis of wood charcoal remains from archaeological sites, it is common to find different microorganisms and different forms of degradation present in the plant tissue. However, one may encounter difficulties when attempting to identify these microorganisms and determine when their attack occurred. This paper focuses on preservation aspects related to the microorganisms in wood and demonstrates the structural changes that take place in different types of decayed wood after it was converted into charcoal. The study seeks to determine whether the microbial attack found in archaeological woods took place before the burning of the wood or after. Burning experiments were conducted using wood that had been decayed by various types of fungi including white-rot, brown-rot, and soft-rot. The laboratory burnt wood samples showed decay patterns that were comparable to those observed in archaeological charcoal samples, indicating that signs of fungal infestation and features of decay can be preserved after burning with micromorphological details of mycelium and cell wall attack evident. This indication may provide important information related to the gathering of deadwood as fuelwood. In addition, examples of decayed wood preserved in archaeological charcoal assemblages are described. Their relationship to the archaeological context and environmental conditions may suggest different interpretative models concerning wood management strategies applied by past societies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2106-2116
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to express their gratitude to Dr. R.J. Koestler and Dr. P. DePriest from the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute and Prof. Dr. E. Badal from the University of Valencia for their valuable comments. We would like to thank Prof. Dr. P. Raczky, Dr. A. Anders (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest), A. Matoga (Archaeological Museum, Kraków), and the Kraków Archaeological Team for Excavation of the Motorways for providing archaeological charcoals. Special thanks to J. Watson (MCI) and the personnel of SEM Laboratory (University of Valencia) for their help. M. Moskal-del Hoyo would also like to thank the University of Valencia (program “V Segles”) for the financial support provided while conducting research at the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute.


  • Anthracology
  • Archaeobotany
  • Biodeterioration
  • Deadwood collection
  • Fungal attack
  • Wood charcoal


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