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A multianalytical approach to investigate stone biodeterioration at a UNESCO world heritage site: the volcanic rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Northern Ethiopia

Research Area: Uncategorized Year: 2013
Type of Publication: Article
Authors:
  • Nick Schiavon
  • Tilde De Caro
  • Alemayehu Kiros
  • Ana Teresa Caldeira
  • Erica Parisi
  • Cristina Riccucci
  • Giovanni Ettore Gigante
Journal: APPLIED PHYSICS A-MATERIALS SCIENCE & PROCESSING Volume: 113
Number: 4 Pages: 843-854
Month: December
ISSN: 0947-8396
Abstract:
A multianalytical approach combining Optical Microscopy (OM), Backscattered Variable Pressure Scanning Electron Microscopy + Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (VP-BSEM + EDS), Powder X-ray Diffractometry (PXRD), Raman Spectroscopy, and Microbiological techniques has been applied to characterize decay products and processes occurring at the surface of two rock-hewn churches (Bete Gyorgis and Bete Amanuel) at the UNESCO's World Heritage site of Lalibela, Northern Ethiopia. The two churches were carved into volcanic scoria deposits of basaltic composition. In their geological history, the Lalibela volcanic rocks underwent late to post-magmatic hydrothermal alteration together with partial laterization and are therefore characterized by a decay-prone highly vesicular microtexture with late stage to post-magmatic precipitation of secondary mineral phases (calcite-zeolite-smectite). The main objective of the study was to gain a better insight into the weathering products and mechanisms affecting the surface of the stone monuments and to assess the relative contribution of natural ``geological'' weathering processes versus biological/salt attack in stone decay at this unique heritage site. Results indicate that while the main cause of bulk rock deterioration and structural failure could be related to the stone inherited ``geological'' features, biological attack by micro- (bacteria) and/or macro- (lichens) organisms is currently responsible for severe stone surface physical and chemical weathering leading to significant weakening of the stone texture and to material loss at the surface of the churches walls. A prompt and careful removal of the biological patinas with the correct biocidal treatment is therefore recommended.
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