During the restoration of the church of “San Esteban” in Cuéllar (Segovia, Spain) a few sepulchres were opened. Among them was that of Doña Isabel de Zuazo, from the 16th century. Together with the corpse was found a series of printed documents from the 15th–16th centuries, most of which were bulls of indulgence. A microbiological study of the documents was carried out using techniques of isolation and molecular microbiology, together with scanning electron microscopy.
Most of the identified bacteria were highly suggestive of a human origin, particularly the predominance of Clostridium species consistent with the flora of the human intestinal tract. Our results demonstrate that appreciable post-mortem migration of bacteria has taken place from the corpse to the historic documents. This can be explained considering that the documents were found on pelvic region, and were contaminated by body fluids and putrefaction.
Keywords: Paper biodeterioration, Clostridium, Penicillium, Cladosporium, Epicoccum