Making Mud Brick

Currently we have a project going on to make the temples more accessible to wheelchairs and mobility scooters. Part of the research we are doing is the use of mud brick as the proposed material to make the access path smooth and level. We favour this on the grounds of aesthetics, costs, use of local labour, eco friendly locally sourced, climate suitability, in fact so many factors it is hard too find any factor not to use it.

Joanne Stables went out in the field and produced this report.:-

Mudbrick Production by ARCE.

 

On the West Bank of Luxor at the ancient necropolis of Dra Abu el-Naga, a group of workmen employed by the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE) have been busily working away to produce more than 15,000 mudbricks for a number of international archaeological missions.

The production process for the mudbricks is a very simple one. The mudbricks being produced by the ARCE team are composed mainly of soil (collected from the spoil heaps of the nearby archaeological excavations). The fabrication of the mudbricks at Dra Abu el-Naga takes place at the base of the ancient necropolis adjacent to the modern road.

The soil is then mixed with straw and water in different proportions depending upon the soil type. The raw materials are then mixed until the correct texture is achieved. The mixing of the raw materials was done by foot (pigeage à pied) and shovels (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Mixing of the raw materials.

 

The basic proportions of each raw material for mudbrick mixture produced by the ARCE team are: 60% soil, 20% straw and 20% water. Modern materials such as cement or lime that are known to stabilise the mixture of soil and sand were not added to the mixture as the ARCE team recognises that mudbrick strengthens as it dries out.

 

Figure 2: The mixture after mellowing.

Figure 3: Metal mould and the process of casting mudbrick.

Figure 4: The process of casting mudbricks.

Once the mixture is ready, it is left to mellow for one or two days prior to being cast (Figure 2). Each mudbrick is produced by manually throwing the wet mixture into a dampened metal mould which is placed upon the ground (Figure 3). The wet mixture is then compressed by hand into the mould until the workman is happy the mixture is stable and free from air pockets. A finishing trowel is then used to smooth the top of the mudbrick and remove any excess mixture (Figure 4). The mudbrick is then marked by an identifying metal stamp and the mould is removed. Following the removal of the mould, the mudbrick is left on the ground to dry in the sun (Figure 5). To complete the drying process, the bricks are rotated to ensure each side is dry. Once fully dry, the mudbricks are stored onsite. To reduce the stresses upon the bricks during storage, the mudbricks are stacked and orientated as rowlock stretchers and stretchers bricks (Figure 6).

The fully dried mudbricks proved to be very hard. I jumped up and down several times upon one brick that was lying on the ground and I made no impact. Underfoot it felt as hard as any modern paving material.

The simplicity of the production process, and the relatively low costs of making the mudbricks, gives me great hopes for using mudbrick as a paving material for improving disabled access to the ancient Egyptian temples. I would even be very happy to live in a mudbrick house!

 

Figure 5: Mudbrick drying in the sun.

Figure 6: Fully dried mudbricks.

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