Circular dichroism (CD) (and synchrotron circular dichroism (SCD)) spectroscopy is a rapid, highly sensitive technique used to investigate structural conformational changes in biomolecules in response to interactions with ligands in solution and in film. It is a chiroptical method and at least one of the interacting molecules must possess optical activity (or chirality). In this review, we compare the capabilities of CD and SCD in the characterisation of celluloses and lignin polymers in archaeological wood. Cellulose produces a range of spectral characteristics dependent on environment and form; many of the reported transitions occur in the vacuum-ultraviolet region (< 180 nm) most conveniently delivered using a synchrotron source. The use of induced CD in which achiral dyes are bound to celluloses to give shifted spectra in the visible region is also discussed, together with its employment to identify the handedness of the chiral twists in nanocrystalline cellulose. Lignin is one target for the design of future consolidants that interact with archaeological wood to preserve it. It is reportedly achiral, but here we review several studies in which CD spectroscopy has successfully revealed lignin interactions with chiral enzymes, highlighting the potential usefulness of the technique in future research to identify new generation consolidants.
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