Timothy Filley, assistant professor of biogeochemistry at Purdue University, led a study that combined stable nitrogen isotope analysis and microscopy of wood samples from the tomb to gather information on the king's diet and determine the nutrient sources for the fungi that destroyed much of the contents of the tomb and human remains.
The findings, published in Tuesday's (10/30) issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may explain why many artifacts within the tomb have deteriorated, despite the fact they were constructed of decay-resistant wood, Filley says.
"The structural and chemical signatures of the decay, which is heaviest where the body was laid and on the tabletops surrounding the coffin, indicates that the fungus was fueled by nitrogen from the king's body and food sources left in the tomb," Filley says.
"Our results account for the tenuous nature of archeological wood in the tomb and demonstrate the fine balance that must be maintained between the environment, nutrient supply and microbial community to permit preservation," he says.
The samples Filley studied came from Tumulus Midas Mound at Gordion, Turkey, thought to be the tomb of the Phrygian King Midas. Earlier analysis of the coffin, furniture and tomb structure by co-authors Robert Blanchette and Elizabeth Simpson had shown that the primary cause of degradation was a soft-rot fungus, which generally does not cause extensive damage to wood.
"Though environmental conditions within the tomb over the past 2,700 years were fairly dry, alkaline water seeped through the limestone overburden of the mound into the buried wooden tomb, creating ideal conditions for this distinct type of fungi to flourish,"
Contact: Susan Gaidos