Tell Atchana/Alalakh
Making Mud Bricks

 

Experimental Archaeology

Replication of a LBA Kiln

 Kiln Gallery

Making Mud Bricks

   Mud Bricks Gallery

Making Tandir

   Tandir Gallery

Burn the Brick

Burn the House Down

   Burn the House Gallery

   Burn the House Video

Ceramic Fabric Exp.

The Mud House

 

 


The major material that was used in the architecture of ancient Alalakh was primarily mud brick. The use of stone for building foundations was mostly limited to large scale structures such as the Levels IV and VII palatial and administrative complexes. With the exception of scrappy stone foundations used in the last phases of the site, the primary construction elements in the architecture were defined by sun dried mud bricks. Most noticeable were the varieties in the composition of mud bricks found from the earliest levels to the latest, as well as the variations within contemporary levels at the site itself. This variation prompted us to do more research on the use and production of mud bricks. Mud brick samples were collected from all excavated architectural phases for analysis. The soil data from these will provide an understanding of construction standards and variation throughout the occupational periods, as well as provide information about the geomorphology of the site.
In addition to the technical analyses, physical expenditures were documented in the actual production of mud brick and subsequent construction of the mud brick structures described below. Two workers (Hasan Ay and Isa Ökten) from Atchana village and with the participation of members of the excavation crew, a regular schedule of mud brick production was maintained from 5.30-13.30 P.M. for 7 weeks. The total amount of mud bricks produced reached 3100 after 35 days. These newly made bricks were then used during several of our experimental projects (bread oven and burning down a model house). The rest was stored under plastic sheets for future projects. In the coming years more experiments are planned in order to test and understand the clay architecture at ancient Alalakh.

The Raw Materials
The mud brick production area was located where we recycled the earth excavated from Squares 64.72 and 64.82 on the elevated southwestern rise at the site. Loads of straw were brought in from the village by tractor. Since the production of mud bricks was done on top of the archaeological site, mud mixing pits were not dug to preserve the strata; instead the earth was piled into a mounds and straw was mixed in. The water supply was brought in from the village with water tanks.



It was very difficult to measure the actual mud and straw ratios in meters and liters during production since the work was based on the villagers’ experience and in many cases we resorted to eyeballing the amounts. Nevertheless, we did use some traditional standards. For instance, 30 wheelbarrow loads of earth were mixed with 3 large scale sandbags of straw to create 80-90 mud bricks. But this ratio changed repeatedly according to the composition of the earth that was used. An important observation made was that the earth from an ashy deposit did not produce high quality mud bricks.
No mechanical mixers were used. The mixing was done by traditional methods with human power. The workers worked the mud and straw with shovels and then stomped on the mixture (like smashing grapes for wine), until it reached the desired consistency. The mixing stage was generally done in the evenings and the mixture was left to dry into an optimum, dough-like consistency until the next working day. In some cases, improper mixing affected the quality of the mud bricks. For example inadequate mixing caused some sections of the bricks to have concentrations of straw, which decreased the strength of the bricks.

Total number of workers Total number of Work days Total
work hours
Total number of
mud bricks
2 35 315 3100

Mud Brick molds
Two wooden mold frames representing different sizes of mud bricks were made by a carpenter in Antakya. The first mold was fabricated to make three 40 x 40 x 12 cm mud bricks at one time. The second mold was designed to have three beds for making mud bricks measuring 40 x 20 x 12 cm. The sizes are based on historical mud bricks discovered at Alalakh during excavations.


Lily Cadwell and Nurettin Bataray are posing with the brand new frames before the making of first bricks (on the left),Ozgecan Yarma and Isa Okten are mixing straw, earth and water ( on the right).

Making the Bricks
After 12 hours the mixture of earth, straw, and water reached the desired level of consistency overnight. Before loading the mud straw mixture, the mold frame was brushed with water; the wetness prevented the mud from sticking to the wooden frame. The mixture was then put into the frame by tipping a wheelbarrow; a trowel and a specially made wood hand pressing tool applied pressure on the mud in the frame to flatten it down. After filling each of these beds, the frame was lifted off by two persons, leaving the shaped mud bricks for the subsequent drying process. The newly produced mud bricks were then left under direct sunlight. In order to dry the bricks properly, they were placed vertically for another three weeks. The final stage was to remove the adhering ground material which was cleaned off with shovels.


The Atchana Stamped Brand (AT)
After the mud was poured into the mold, the bricks were stamped with the letters AT, the general code that was used in the registration system of the Alalakh excavations. This stamped brand will serve as identification when used in building restorations in the future.

.

The resulting sun dried mud bricks weighed the following:

40x40x 12 22.000 kg
20x40x12 10.80 Kg



The Restoration of the Palaces VII and IV


After the excavation of multiple levels of palaces by Sir Leonard Woolley during the 1930-1940s, the palaces were left exposed to natural conditions for 70 years, which dramatically damaged the mud brick structures. With the exception of the East wing of the Level IV Palace, where a metal awning provided shelter from 1980 onwards, the rest of the mud brick architecture was not protected from deterioration. The overgrown vegetation damaged and cracked the mud brick walls, including the basalt and limestone orthostats. Foxes and various ground dwelling animals such as prairie dogs dug holes right through the walls. This damage required the urgent attention of a restoration and preservation project.
The restoration of the Alalakh mud brick palaces will be a difficult task to accomplish. The mud bricks of the extant walls are heavily burnt and rock-hard vitrification provided a natural preservation environment. Nevertheless, the collapsed and eroded sections of the walls should be cleaned and stabilized in order to prevent ongoing damage. This will necessitate the repair of some wall facades and tops by using new mud bricks. Having a good color balance between the old and new mud bricks remains an important objective and a long lasting restoration result is crucial. Although a decision has not yet been made in restoration project methodology, several ongoing experiments have set the stage for determining the most effective technique. Mud bricks will be baked for correct color and to provide resistance to natural conditions. A second phase of surface treatment with conservation materials will stabilize the restoration.
Before the start of the restoration project, we will stabilize the Woolley excavation areas to limit the effects of weather and environment. The mud brick baking projects are part of this attempt to test the effect of direct/indirect as well as high/low temperatures. An immediate remedy is needed to stem the tide of deterioration by producing long lasting mud bricks, which can then be used to restore the standing architectural remains before it is too late.

for further information on the experimental projects

Murat Akar

akar@alalakh.org