• wood;
  • decay rate;
  • permafrost;
  • thawing;
  • environmental monitoring;
  • microscopy;
  • oxygen consumption;
  • Qajaa;
  • Greenland

The degradation of archaeological wood at freezing and thawing temperatures is studied at the site of Qajaa in West Greenland through a combination of environmental monitoring, measurement of oxygen consumption and microscopy of wood samples. Permanently frozen wood is still very well preserved after 2–4000 years, while wood samples that thaw every summer show attack by soft rot and an average density loss of 0.1 g cm–3 (corresponding to 25% of the dry mass) over the past 27 years. Future increases in temperature may increase the decay rate significantly (Q10 = 4.2 at 0–10°C) but the effects on site depend on local hydrology.