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 Work days
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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
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
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:
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