While perhaps not all BAR readers have the time and resources to replicate an Iron Age gate or Byzantine mosaic, anyone can make a mudbrick! The recipe is simple—and the ingredients common: As long as you have access to mud, water and straw (or another type of organic material), you, too, can mimic the manufacturing process used by ancient Egyptians—and Israelite slaves—to make mudbricks.
In the summer of 2013, archaeologists at Tell Timai made mudbricks to conserve the ancient walls at their site in the Nile Delta. Robert Littman, Marta Lorenzon and Jay Silverstein describe the process in “With and Without Straw: How Israelite Slaves Made Bricks,” in the March/April 2014 issue of BAR. Take a closer look at the process in this web-exclusive slideshow.
Hover cursor over image to read caption. Click the arrow in the bottom right corner for full screen.
All images courtesy Robert Littman and Marta Lorenzon (images 1–3, 5–10, 14–16, 18, 19) and Jay Silverstein (4, 11–13, 17).
Their efforts produced great results, and although time-consuming, their procedures can be followed to create mudbricks of your own:
1. Mix topsoil and water to create a thick mud.
2. Add straw. While the composition of the mud will affect the exact proportions, as a general rule, add a half pound of straw for every cubic foot of mud mixture. If you have access to grain chaff (a byproduct of threshing), you can use that as temper. If not, chop straw into very small pieces—called straw chaff—and use that.
3. Knead the mud mixture with your bare feet for four days.
4. Once it has fermented (after four days of kneading), leave the mixture alone for a few days.
5. Knead the mixture again on the day you plan to form your mudbricks.
6. Pour the mud mixture into molds (the shape of your choosing) and let them solidify in the molds for at least 20 minutes.
7. Remove from molds and deposit on a drying floor layered with sand and straw to prevent the bricks from sticking to the floor itself.
8. Let the bricks dry for a week.
After the bricks have dried, they are ready to be used—whether to build something new or to reconstruct ancient walls!
Read more about ancient mudbricks in the ancient world in Robert Littman, Marta Lorenzon and Jay Silverstein, “With & Without Straw: How Israelite Slaves Made Bricks,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2014.
Not a BAS Library member yet? Sign up today.
Originally published February 2014, updated May 2014.
Watch exclusive videos from the 2014 excavations at Tell Timai:
Week One: Tell Timai archaeologists provide a look at their dig site and their research goals for the 2014 season while giving viewers a taste of travel in Egypt and the atmosphere on an archaeological field crew.
Week Two: Meet Kufti archaeologists, explore ancient streets and the preserved mudbricks that shaped them and dive into the port of Alexandria with rare underwater video footage.