Sunday, 9 July 2017

Geoarchaeology and mudbricks

Remains of stone wall base, and a whole lot of roof tiles at Olynthos
Anyone who is familiar with Catalhoyuk, or indeed Near Eastern prehistory in general, will know there has been a lot of focus on mudbricks. What are they made of? What can the raw materials and manufacturing processes tell us about Neolithic society? And also floors - we love floors in the Near East, counting them, describing them, analysing them. I was therefore a little surprised when I was doing some background research on Olynthos, to find that no-one has really looked that much at floors, or mudbricks, in classical archaeology. In fact, I was surprised to find out that the houses were made of mudbricks at all, though this is probably just due to my lack of familiarity with the period. We are so used to seeing the remains of stone walls, and the stone monumental architecture, but the mudbricks don't seem to preserve. The roof tiles on the other hand are everywhere (as can be seen nicely in the image from Olynthos to the right). The lack of preservation of mudbricks is probably due to the fact they were dried in the sun rather than fired, and therefore easily eroded by the elements, whereas the roof tiles are produced through firing, similar to pottery (which is also found in abundance). It is going to be a challenge I suspect, to distinguish between the packed earth floors, decaying collapsed mudbrick, and the collapsed upper storey floors. There has been a lot of work done on mudbrick in other parts of the world which will be a useful comparison. There is so much potential for geoarchaeological approaches, all this earth-based material being used and transformed in different ways. There is a whole PhD in here I'm sure - hopefully I can find a student who is passionate about both ancient Greece and geoarchaeology to take on the challenge!

Ethnographic example of mudbrick building with stone foundations and tiled roof - from Olynthos site information panel


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