Is there an archaeobotanist in the house?

Fortunately for us, the answer is yes.

Following up on my recent post about identifying the wood used to make this Middle Kingdom painted wooden coffin, I showed the images of the thin sections I cut from some detached wood fragments to Dr. Naomi Miller, our resident archaeobotanist. Dr. Miller typically deals with really degraded material, often tiny pieces of charcoal, so she was delighted to see that these samples showed enough information to make a more definite identification. AND, much to my delight, she confirmed my hunch that these boards are made of acacia.

Here are the images she used for comparison, found in Anatomy of European woods, by Fritz Hans Schweingruber.

acacia references

Reference images of Acacia cross-sections (left) and tangential sections (right)

And here they are, side-by-side with our samples:

wood comparison cross sections

In the cross-sections, we see pore multiples and uniseriate rays

wood comparison tangential sections

In the tangential sections, we see mostly uniseriate rays, with some biseriate rays.

We compared our samples’ images with images of ash and carob in the same book, since these were also candidates originally, but there were enough differences for us to exclude these as possibilities. It is possible that there is something that we are not considering, but I think that I’m convinced by this work that this coffin was made with acacia.


  • ahmed abdrabou

    from the observation of the sample ,i suggest this sample belongs to
    Ziziphus spina-christi (sidder ) it is recorded as being a native to
    Egypt. the sample has the same diagnostic characteristics of Ziziphus
    spina-christi not acacia sp.
    these are a references for comparing the sample

    A. Crivellaro, F.H. Schweingruber, Atlas of Wood, Bark and Pith Anatomy of Eastern
    Mediterranean Trees and Shrubs with Special Focus on Cyprus, Springer-Verlag
    Berlin Heidelberg, 2013, p. 462.
    [10] A. Fahn, E. Werker, P. Bass, Wood Anatomy and Identification of trees and Shrubs
    from Israel and Adjacent Regions, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities,
    Jerusalem, 1986.