Salt damage and microclimate in the Postumius Tomb, Roman Necropolis of Carmona, Spain

Año Publicación:  2011
Responsable: D. Benavente et al.
Journal, Volumen y páginas:
Environmental Earth Sciences, 63,1529–1543


D. Benavente, S. Sanchez-Moral, A. Fernandez-Cortes, J. C. Canaveras, J. Elez, & C. Saiz-Jimenez


The necropolis of Carmona (Seville, Spain) is one of the most significant Roman burial sites in southern Spain used during the first and second centuries ad. Of its more than 600 tombs, the Postumius Tomb is one of the best examples of a tomb affected by severe salt damage. To define safe microclimatic conditions for its conservation, environmental parameters were recorded from June 2007 to April 2009, both inside and outside the tomb, and mineralogical, textural, petrophysical, and durability characterization studies of the host-rock were made. Experimental tests revealed a high susceptibility to salt deterioration of a host-rock (calcarenite) with low mechanical properties and a complex porous medium that favors salt weathering, water condensation, and capillary rise. The analysis of the weathered material showed the presence chiefly of gypsum (CaSO4·2H2O), thenardite (Na2SO4) and halite (NaCl) in the tomb of Postumius, with alteration that was more intensive in spring and autumn, and less so during summer months. Salt damage activity was calculated by quantifying the number of transitions of crystallization–dissolution of saline phases. The calculated seasonality for water condensation and salt damage is coeval. The host-rock alteration is in accord with the estimated salt decay, and was more intensive in spring and autumn and less so during summer. The seasonality of halite transitions is similar to that of the sodium sulfate system, which suggests that salt weathering is produced by the two types of salts. By combining different methodological approaches (pore structure, water condensation, salt and environmental conditions), it is possible to explain why salt crystallization occurs in a tomb with hygrometric conditions that are not suitable for this process to occur. These methodological approaches are also used to other rock-decaying processes, such as the development of microorganisms, clay swelling and calcite dissolution by NaCl- and CO2-rich pore waters, and can be used to predict safe threshold microclimatic conditions that minimize all rock-decaying processes.

Keywords: Salt damage, Environmental monitoring, Preventive conservation, Roman tombs

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