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The Conservation of Waterlogged Wood Using Sucrose

James Parrent
Thesis: December 1983
Chair: Hamilton
Nautical Archaeology Program


One of the major problems facing archaeologists is the conservation of wet-site artifacts which are found not only underwater, but also in swamps, bogs, and other similar wet environments. These sites often yield large quantities of well preserved waterlogged wooden objects, in varying degrees of deterioration, that require conservation treatment. Conservation of waterlogged wood is expensive and this expense can inhibit excavations. The problem of expense is particularly acute in countries which have to import most chemicals now popular in wood conservation, e.g., polyethylene glycol or colophany rosin and acetone. Therefore, it is necessary to develop new, less costly alternatives for conserving waterlogged wood. This thesis investigates the use of sucrose and how it reacts with wood's ultrastructure to prevent shrinkage and warpage of waterlogged wood.

Experiments using archaeological wood from the sunken city of seventeenth century Port Royal, Jamaica, West Indies and modern chemically-decomposed white birch samples were conducted in order to evaluate the use of sucrose to stabilize waterlogged wood. The following techniques and methods were used in those experiments: 1. Waterlogged wood was treated with aqueous solutions of sucrose and with type "A" sugar. The results of the two treatments were examined for parity. 2. The cell structure of various samples was examined by the use of light microscopy as well as transmission and scanning electron microscopy to determine the level of penetration and bulking of the sucrose treatment. 3. A highly degraded (948% moisture content) wood sample was examined with transmission electron microscopy in order to determine the amount of organic material remaining that could bond with sucrose. 4. Chemical additives were investigated which will deter attacks on artifacts treated with sucrose by microorganism, insects and rodents.

The results of this investigation showed that the sucrose treatment, properly applied, is a safe, reliable method of conserving waterlogged wooden artifacts.

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