Tag Archives: Mesopotamian

The History of Bricks: Mesopotamia

And now I must describe how the soil dug out to make the moat was used, and the method of building the wall. While the digging was going on, the earth that was shoveled out was formed into bricks, which were baked in kilns as soon as sufficient number were made; then using hot bitumen for mortar, the workmen began at revetting the brick each side of the moat, and then went on to erect the actual wall. In both cases they laid rush-mats between every thirty courses of bricks. — Herodotus, i. 179 (of Babylon)

The area that comprises modern-day Iraq was originally inhabited by a people who invented the arch, the column, the wheel, algebra, geometry, astronomy, and the potter’s wheel. However, 11,500 years ago, during a period that is called Pre-Pottery Neolithic A, people there lived much more simply, in round buildings with outer structures made of mud brick. They lived in upper Mesopotamia and the Levantine, in the Fertile Crescent. Later and further south, lay Sumer and its people, the Sumerians. They were the first to develop a written means of communication; they wrote on clay tablets in a hand that evolved from pictograms to cuneiform. Literature was important to them and the work we would recognize most easily today is the Epic of Gilgamesh. Sumerians were pantheistic and their temple, the ziggurat, was an ascending rise of mud bricks. Other famous Mesopotamian places names include Babylon and Assyria. Hammurabi and his  code, a set of laws, is among Babylon’s legacy. It has been noted that some of the bases of Babylonian temples were mud brick only, some were mud brick with fired clay faces, some with stone faces. Regardless, the Babylonians were the first to fire clay. There is other evidence of the use of clay for daily living. Axe heads of clay have been found, as has weaponry in the form of sling bolts and bullets, also found were nail-shaped objects made of clay, thought to be used as pestles or as a tool for tanning, in addition according to Peter Roger Stuart Moorey’s Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and industries: The Archaeological Evidence. It makes perfect sense that that clay would be used for such objects in clay-rich areas, especially in the absence of other building materials.  The following chart is also from Moorey and it shows the “partial chemical composition of clay and sherds from Babylon and Kish.”And, as with other ancient areas, Babylon was conquered and reconquered numerous times. After the Hittites destroyed it, a Semitic people, the Assyrians, held sway. Later, it was defeated by Cyrus the Great, who made Babylon part of the Iranian empire. The Chaldeans tried to reestablish it and it was during this time that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon existed, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Later, Darius the Great, a Persian, came to rule Babylon and it was he who started Persia’s long-running stewardship. Eventually, this gave way to Alexander the Great. We’d be hard put to find a sector of land that has seen such history, such traffic and such glory. There were other areas of Mesopotamia, too, but their contributions were of a quieter order.  However many changes were wrought by the waxing and waning of these ancient civilizations, their building materials were little changed. Then, as now, they are  variously called mud-bricks, mudbricks or mud bricks. Something I came across while trying to find more information about the mud brick itself was the site of a Los Angeles middle school teacher named Mrs. Charky. I love the recreation of things historical and was thrilled to see that she sent her students on a quest to create and turn in a modern-day reproduction of a Mesopotamian mud brick. You’ve gotta love it! The ingredients were to be “dried grass or hay, soil, and water,” the size a rectangle about 3″ x 6″. Take a look at this link to see a photo of her example. (I daren’t post it!) According to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, “Brick making was a major Mesopotamian industry, especially in the south, where wood was in short supply and stone was non-existent.” Clay was Sumer’s most abundant material and with it was mixed sand, water, mud, and organic material, husks or straw. Often, it was sun-dried, as there was little fuel for firing. Pottery and brick-making and laying were going concerns in ancient days and a large part of the economy. The Sumerians even used clay to make sickles. Today, throughout former Mesopotamia, one can find Old Town sections made of mud brick structures, often enclosed by a mud brick walls. As well, brick manufacture continues to be a going concern. The example of mud brick wall in the photo above is in Al Hillah, Iraq, a remnant of ancient Babylon. Unfortunately, there is little left, thanks to George Bush Jr.’s so-called “Shock and Awe.” So much has been lost, it is difficult to contemplate. It is true, however, that humankind has endured in this area for tens of thousands of years and it is uplifting to see new mud bricks being made to replace the old and the broken.


Filed under Articles and Interviews

Preview: The History of Bricks

Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse, and Offisa Pup, by George Herriman

George Herriman and his beloved characters.

My favorite comic strip characters are Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse, by George Herriman. Cat and mouse became fixtures in the everyday lives of Americans, as their antics played out in Hearst newspapers all over the country for four decades. Behind me, hangs one of the strips in a frame on the wall in our living room. It is a page from a 1916 issue of the Boston American and this strip is one of our utmost favorites. As well, several books of his strips are sitting on our bookshelves. Set in Monument Valley, Arizona, Herriman’s scenes have famous geographic features like The Mittens inked into the background and his pages are filled with icons of Southwest Indian art. Herriman, a Creole from New Orleans, lived in Los Angeles, but he loved this area in Arizona and often visited there. One of the main undercurrents in the strip is the relationship between Krazy and Ignatz. Krazy is dreamy, sweet-tempered, imaginative, and romantic. Many assume that Krazy Kat is female,

Antique bricks with manufacturers stamps.

but Krazy is actually androgynous. Ignatz, by virtue of his name, is male, and his character is that of a cunning little imp, scrappy, with a short fuse. Much of the plot revolves around Krazy’s love for Ignatz and the mouse plotting to hit Krazy with a brick. Offisa Pup is usually in the background, ready to haul Ignatz to an adobe-styled jail. When mouse does bean cat with said brick, the cat’s reaction is one of love, that bricks are “stuffed with moom-bins.” It’s best to not analyze the relationship too deeply, but to just enjoy the flow and banter, save noting that they play opposite roles, the cat is the prey of the mouse. If I’ve sparked your interest, here is an archives of Herriman’s work. The brick Ignatz hurls does reign paramount; however, and that leads me to my current blog topic, which I am still researching, “The History of the Brick.” I started wondering when the first brick was made and this led me to  Mesopotamians and the mud brick, still a primary building material in the Middle East, one that has been used for 10,000 years. The mud brick evolved to the modern version, which is, of course, fired. One of the things we’ll look at is stamps used by manufacturers. Ignatz used generic bricks, but stamped bricks tell an intriguing story of their own. (Ignatz, in defense of his actions, says, “It was not a brick, it was a DRAWING of a brick!”)

Herrimans tribute to Monument Valley, circa 1925.


Filed under Articles and Interviews, Featured Artists, Fun