A Multi-Analytical Approach to Infer Mineral–Microbial Interactions Applied to Petroglyph Sites in the Negev Desert of Israel

Laura Rabbachin, Guadalupe Piñar, Irit Nir, Ariel Kushmaro, Mariela J. Pavan, Elisabeth Eitenberger, Monika Waldherr, Alexandra Graf, Katja Sterflinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Petroglyph sites exist all over the world. They are one of the earliest forms of mankind’s expression and a precursor to art. Despite their outstanding value, comprehensive research on conservation and preservation of rock art is minimal, especially as related to biodeterioration. For this reason, the main objective of this study was to explore the factors involved in the degradation of petroglyph sites in the Negev desert of Israel, with a focus on biodegradation processes. Through the use of culture-independent microbiological methods (metagenomics), we characterized the microbiomes of the samples, finding they were dominated by bacterial communities, in particular taxa of Actinobacteria and Cyanobacteria, with resistance to radiation and desiccation. By means of XRF and Raman spectroscopies, we defined the composition of the stone (calcite and quartz) and the dark crust (clay minerals with Mn and Fe oxides), unveiling the presence of carotenoids, indicative of biological colonization. Optical microscopy and SEM–EDX analyses on thin sections highlighted patterns of weathering, possibly connected to the presence of biodeteriorative microorganisms that leach the calcareous matrix from the bedrock and mobilize metal cations from the black varnish for metabolic processes, slowly weathering it.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6936
JournalApplied Sciences (Switzerland)
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors.


  • Negev desert
  • analytical techniques
  • biodeterioration
  • metagenomics
  • nanopore sequencing technology
  • petroglyphs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • Instrumentation
  • General Engineering
  • Process Chemistry and Technology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes


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