How to Make a Mudbrick

Watch the process in a web-exclusive slideshow

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.

 


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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!

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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.

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Originally published February 2014, updated May 2014.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.

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.

Posted in Daily Life and Practice, Media.

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  • Gloria says

    We did not take a month to make our bricks in New Mexico. My Ex made forms out of 2x 4 boards the size of regular bricks. We did four per mold and they dried in 1 day due to the dry heat and we mixed mud daily and used dried Buffalo Grass instead of straw. We used bricks around our house as skirting instead of plastic.

  • Richard says

    Do you really have to knead it for 4 days? I’ve heard of people just taking the wet mud and making bricks immediately. I’ve also heard that the staw is only necessary if you have soil with high clay content because those soils tend to crack as they dry (the clay shrinks as it loses moisture).

  • Sarah says

    We still use the same technique down in Reversdale, except that we like to use urine for making the mud because when it dries it is stronger than ordinary water made bricks.

    It is good fun to get the entire village urinating into the wheel barrow.

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