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Publication . Article . 2020

In-place molecular preservation of cellulose in 5,000-year-old archaeological textiles

Corentin Reynaud; Mathieu Thoury; Alexandre Dazzi; Gaël Latour; Mario Scheel; Jiayi Li; Ariane Thomas; +3 Authors
Open Access
Published: 01 Aug 2020 Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, volume 117, issue 33, pages 19,670-19,676 (issn: 0027-8424, eissn: 1091-6490, Copyright policy )
Publisher: National Academy of Sciences
Country: France
The understanding of fossilization mechanisms at the nanoscale remains extremely challenging despite its fundamental interest and its implications for paleontology, archaeology, geoscience, and environmental and material sciences. The mineralization mechanism by which cellulosic, keratinous, and silk tissues fossilize in the vicinity of archaeological metal artifacts offers the most exquisite preservation through a mechanism unexplored on the nanoscale. It is at the center of the vast majority of ancient textiles preserved under nonextreme conditions, known through extremely valuable fragments. Here we show the reconstruction of the nanoscale mechanism leading to the preservation of an exceptional collection of ancient cellulosic textiles recovered in the ancient Near East (4,000 to 5,000 years ago). We demonstrate that even the most mineralized fibers, which contain inorganic compounds throughout their histology, enclose preserved cellulosic remains in place. We evidence a process that combines the three steps of water transport of biocidal metal cations and soil solutes, degradation and loss of crystallinity of cellulosic polysaccharides, and silicification.
Significance We report on the oldest archaeological textiles studied in detail for the mechanisms leading to their exceptional preservation, issued from archaeological excavations in the Ancient East and from collections of the Louvre Museum. We have studied these fossilized hybrid organic–mineral systems at high spatial resolution, from nano- to microscale, using a combination of nanoinfrared near-field spectroscopy, second harmonic generation microscopy, semiquantitative synchrotron X-ray microtomography, and electron microscopy. We establish a physicochemical pathway leading to their exceptional preservation. We show the joint involvement of the two main long-standing paradigms of mineralization and silicification in the process. We consistently identified “pockets of molecular preservation” with a demonstration of the in-place preservation of cellulose microfibrillar assemblies from SHG microscopy.
Subjects by Vocabulary

Microsoft Academic Graph classification: Fossilization Cellulose chemistry.chemical_compound chemistry Geology Archaeology Water transport Taphonomy Nanoscale Mechanism Textile business.industry business


Physical Sciences, Applied Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences, Anthropology, cultural heritage, fossilization, cellulosic textiles, nanoimaging, synchrotron, [SDU.STU.PG]Sciences of the Universe [physics]/Earth Sciences/Paleontology, [SHS.ARCHEO]Humanities and Social Sciences/Archaeology and Prehistory, [CHIM.MATE]Chemical Sciences/Material chemistry, [PHYS]Physics [physics], [SHS.ART]Humanities and Social Sciences/Art and art history, [SHS.MUSEO]Humanities and Social Sciences/Cultural heritage and museology, Multidisciplinary

Funded by
Imagerie et reconstruction multiéchelles de la morphogenèse. (Plateforme d'innovation technologique et méthodologique pour l'imagerie in vivo et la reconstruction des dynamiques multiéchelles de la morphogenèse)
  • Funder: French National Research Agency (ANR) (ANR)
  • Project Code: ANR-11-EQPX-0029
Construction et exploitation d'une ligne de nanotomographie au synchrotron SOLEIL
  • Funder: French National Research Agency (ANR) (ANR)
  • Project Code: ANR-11-EQPX-0031
Integrated Platform for the European Research Infrastructure ON Cultural Heritage
  • Funder: European Commission (EC)
  • Project Code: 654028
  • Funding stream: H2020 | RIA