Tuesday, January 29, 2012
Today we began laying the first bricks to rebuild the enclosure wall of the palace. We decided to begin with the South and West enclosure walls of the site to define and protect the palace itself. Hopefully, next season we can begin restoring the interior of the palace. We were able to hire builders trained in traditional mud brick building techniques that have also worked on restoration of other ancient buildings, including the store rooms of the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses II.
We started by laying down a plastic mesh, called a “geotextile” between the ancient brickwork or desert surface and the new bricks, to further distinguish the new layers of brick from the original ones. A layer of mud mortar is then spread over this. The rain yesterday was fortunate, since now that the ancient bricks are moist, they allow the mud to adhere the new course of bricks to the ones below more firmly.
Although the manufacture of the bricks has not changed much over the millennia, their use has. Many people are familiar with the patterns of laying bricks in buildings in Europe and America in styles such as the “Flemish Bond” or “English Bond” which alternate the laying of headers (bricks laid with their long side parallel to the wall) and stretchers (bricks laid with their short end exposed and the long side perpendicular to the wall). However, the ancient Egyptian builders set the bricks in “stacked rows,” that is, long runs of bricks all laid the same way. This makes for more rapid construction but a weaker wall. It also makes it easier for the
wall to become uneven in thickness and we can see where bricks were laid diagonally in a herringbone pattern in order to adjust the width of the wall. We will try as much as possible to follow the original pattern of the bricks in the wall.
Our builders use levels and string to make sure that the bricks are all even. The bricks are adjusted on the mortar bed with addition of small stones or by cutting away parts of the bottom of the brick to make sure they fit correctly. In some places the wall is entirely missing while in others, it stands as much as a meter high. We will have to fill in all these spaces to make a consistent wall height. Once the builders started, the building went quite rapidly and we were able to set about 500 bricks today. We are hoping we will not run out of them!