Wednesday, February 24, 2010
At a site like the Amun Temple at Malqata, mud brick is everywhere: in big walls, in little walls, and in the temple floor paving. Eroded bits even pave the surrounding desert. But mostly what you notice is the dust. Yes, the better part of an entire Egyptian temple is now little more than dust and it’s everywhere. It collects in your hair, up your nose, down your throat. Every fold and interstice of your clothing gets clogged. When you wipe your face in the heat of the afternoon sun, it comes off like theatrical pancake makeup (the color is somewhere between Iago and Othello). But I’ve come here not to bury mud brick, but to praise it!
The Temple of Amun is decaying as it has been doing for over 3000 years. Every time someone steps onto a mud brick site the decay accelerates. Unfortunately we have to brush off the tops of the walls and even remove decayed and disfigured bricks in order to study the structure. But we do try to minimize the removal of original material, especially if it’s not really going to advance our knowledge of the structure or how it was built. The JEM team and the workmen began preparing the site for documentation two weeks before I arrived. Mostly what they did was sweep off the dust and tumbled brick from the walls and paving – the decay that followed the MMA’s 1917 excavation.
A long, level area of wall can reveal a good pattern of coursed mud brick work, but you must remove the top, adhered level of broken bricks and the mortar beneath. When you do this, voila! You have beautiful, square edged, crisp, 3000-year old mud bricks. They look as if they were made just yesterday. If you’re lucky, you might just find a brick that has the name of our friend Amenhotep III stamped into it. As often as possible, we avoid this step by just sweeping the bricks. Brushing brings to light lots of information, but only if you know what you are looking for. That’s why they brought me here, because I’m the Architect. Just to show you what I’m talking about, here are a few photos of what I mean:
rain damaged brick (this shows how vulnerable this material is to the elements),
swept brick (they’re all rounded and pudgy looking),
- and nice brick (we had to go down through a foot of dust and broken brick to find these beauties).
Our workmen are an important part of this excavation as they are able and hard working members of the team and we often find their expertise in mud brick (a traditional building material in modern Egypt) an asset to the expedition.
– Charlie Evers