The interaction of water with archaeological and ethnographic birch bark and its effects on swelling, shrinkage and deformations

Klügl, Johanna; Di Pietro, Giovanna (2021). The interaction of water with archaeological and ethnographic birch bark and its effects on swelling, shrinkage and deformations. Heritage Science, 9(1) Springer 10.1186/s40494-020-00476-y

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The aim of this study is to gain specific information on the water vapour interaction with archaeological and ethnographic birch bark. Water is involved in a number of curative and preventive conservation measurements e.g. when re-shaping or drying objects and when defining climate directives for long-term storage. We measured the sorption isotherm of archaeological, ethnographic and contemporary birch bark at different temperatures and analysed the moisture-induced size and shape changes (swelling, shrinkage, deformation) during humidification and drying. The analysis revealed that, compared to other organic materials like wood, the moisture uptake of outer birch bark is modest. This can be attributed to the cell structure and composition: outer birch bark is composed of closed cells made to a large extent of hydrophobic components (suberin, lignin). The equilibrium moisture content is higher if lenticels or inner bark are present. The extent of brittleness and delamination of the sample influences the sorption behaviour: the less brittle and delaminated archaeological birch bark is, the lower the equilibrium moisture content (EMC). Since the moisture uptake is modest, the related swelling of the outer bark is also modest, but anisotropic due to the cellular arrangement. Swelling is largest in the radial direction, smaller in longitudinal and negligible in tangential direction. Water vapour can plasticize birch bark and as birch bark becomes flexible, it bends towards the outside of the bark. This deformation takes place at high moisture contents and the adsorption process is slow. Based on these results recommendations on how best to perform treatments involving moisture and on relative humidity ranges for birch bark objects are provided.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Other Institutions > Walter Benjamin Kolleg (WBKolleg)
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of Archaeological Sciences > Pre- and Early History

Graduate School:

Graduate School of the Arts (GSA)

UniBE Contributor:

Klügl, Johanna








Johanna Klügl

Date Deposited:

05 Oct 2021 17:23

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:53

Publisher DOI:





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