Context 143 - March 2016

C O N T E X T 1 4 3 : M A R C H 2 0 1 6 13 EISA ESFANJARY Mud brick in Iran Although mud brick is no longer a popular building material in Iran, the skills and knowledge of how to use it are essential in maintaining the authenticity of earthen architectures. There is no question that earth is the oldest and the most widely used of building materials. The earlier bricks were not fired but dried in the sun. The oldest sun-dried brick so far discovered dates back to about 8000 BC. It was shaped by hand, as evidenced by the fingerprint marks on it. In Gandj-Dara, near Kirmanshah (Iran), walls in level E were constructed of plano-convex and cigar- shaped mud brick dated possibly to the late 9th and early 8th millennium BC.1This type of brick is evident in the elongated handmade bricks at the site of Jericho in the Jordan valley.2Tell Aswad in Syria (8th millennium BC) and the Indus valley cities of Buhen,Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa show a similar reliance on mud brick.This was also the principal building material in Egypt, where from antiquity until modern times mud bricks were made of Nile mud, a mixture of clay and sand, sometimes mixed with bits of straw or animal droppings. The geography of this article relates to the oasis cities and towns on the fringes of the central Iranian desert, where the irrigation system featured the qanat (an ancient technique for supplying water from the underground water table at a higher level to the oases by an underground channel system), and where the building material was essentially earth. Soil is the most readily available of materials from which earthen buildings are built. This is normally sourced by nearby digging, costing virtually nothing.The manufacture of mud brick is simple: soak the earth in water, add chopped straw, mix with bare feet before moulding one after another, row after row, and leave in the sun to dry.3 After one or two days mud bricks were usable for construction in combination with fresh mud mortar. The use of an identical ingredient for mud mortar, mud bricks and mud plasters was fundamental to making a homogeneous structure strong enough to survive over millennia. Being mixed with straw, the mud bricks of archaeological ruins are highly regarded by farmers as fertiliser for farming. As such, earth materials can easily return to nature.That facilitated a process by which an entire built-up area, once it becomes derelict, could be turned into agricultural land. So after a few decades of farming activities it is difficult to find occupational debris remaining from the previous settlement. Examples of this are found in some parts of the Kazimabad and Badrabad neighbourhoods in Maibud, abandoned initially by the shortage of qanat water, or the entire Dih-Nu neighbour- hood may have been affected by flooding. The assumption that earth buildings are impermanent is clearly erroneous, as demonstrated by the survival Making mud brick in Yazd, Iran References 1 Guitty Azarpay (1990) ‘Brick’, in EhsanYarshater (ed), Encyclopaedia Iranica , Vol IV, London and New York 2 Hugo Houben (1994) Earth Construction , Intermediate Technology Publications, London 3 Hans EWulff (1966) The Traditional Crafts of Persia, Cambridge (Massachusetts)