Oxygen consumption measurement was used to study potential oxidative degradation reactions occurring in wooden artefacts from the Viking age Oseberg collection in Norway. Model samples of fresh birch were impregnated with iron, calcium and alum salts to mimic concentrations of such compounds found in Oseberg artefacts and to assess their effect on oxygen consumption rates. The results showed that heated impregnation with alum salt (KAl(SO4)2·12H2O) significantly increased the rate of oxygen consumption, confirming a previously observed link between alum-treatment and wood oxidation. The presence of iron salts in alum-treated wood specimens, even at low concentrations, also substantially increased the oxidation rate. However, the mechanism by which this occurred appeared to be influenced by the alum-treatment. Samples treated with both iron and calcium salts were also studied, in order to investigate a proposed inhibition of iron-induced oxidation by calcium ions. However, these did not appear to consume oxygen at significantly different rates. In Oseberg samples, a large variation in oxygen consumption rates from 0.48 to an apparent 8.2 μg O2 (g wood)−1 day−1 was observed, and these values were consistently higher than those for reference fresh wood. The results demonstrated that oxygen consumption measurement is a viable method of evaluating chemical stability in this case, but is best applied to model samples with limited compositional variability.
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