Monday, June 28, 2010

Cleaning the World's Oldest Standing Wooden Building

We have been working with archaeologist Richard Liebhart on the wooden tomb located within the Midas mound. This tomb is the oldest standing wooden structure in the world (c. 700 B.C.).

A view of the Midas Tumulus, which houses the wooden tomb.

The tomb structure is formed by four walls of solid tree trunks laid horizontally and stacked, with a roof of tree trunks laid across the top. The body of an older male was found in the tomb with textiles, wooden furniture, and groups of bronze vessels and pottery containing food residues that have been the subject of extensive analysis. More information about the contents of the tomb and previous research about the materials can be found here. Long thought to be the remains of King Midas, current research now suggests that the body is slightly older than Midas and may be his father. The contents of the tomb were removed during the excavation, so current conservation work on the tomb is centered around the cleaning and maintenance of the wooden structure.

Richard Liebhart surveys the roof of the tomb. The wood seen on the left is heavily 
coated in dust, debris and concrete. 

A concrete support structure was built around the tomb in the 1960's to support the weight of the massive mound surrounding the tomb chamber. Though it seems to be working successfully, there are many places where the concrete dripped onto the wood during installation. Our cleaning has involved gently brushing the wood and vacuuming the massive quantity of dirt on the surface to reveal the concrete spots underneath. We are removing the concrete from the wood mechanically with small tools and documenting the appearance of the wood before and after cleaning.

Elizabeth documents the condition of the wood before cleaning.

Cleaning is a team effort! Jessie holds the light source, while Emily brushes 
the surface of the wood and Özge holds the vacuum. 

This is no ordinary cleaning project for us, as working inside the tomb presents the extra challenge of working in spaces with limited access. This season we are working on an area of the roof, requiring us to climb up an artfully rigged frame structure and conquer any fear of heights as we work several meters off of the ground. Turkish student Özge Sırma has been assisting us with this project, along with other work going on in the lab.

Moving around the top of the tomb is a complicated endeavor. Don't look down!

In addition to cleaning, environmental monitoring is a key part of our work in the tomb. Dataloggers recording fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity are installed in several places throughout the tomb. Since wood is a material that undergoes substantial dimensional change as a result of variations in relative humidity, it is critical that the environment remains stable to ensure the structural stability of the tomb. The perimeter of the tomb is accessible to visitors, who alter the environment of closed spaces by adding heat and moisture. Human impact is a major threat to heritage sites, but so far there does not appear to be a substantial impact on the environmental conditions of the Midas Tumulus from visitors.


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