National Geographic : 1941 Oct
The Manufacture and Use of Brick in AncientEgypt T HE average dictionary or encyclopedia derives the word adobe from the Spanish adobar, "to plaster," and lets it go at that; but dobe, meaning "brick," was a common word in ancient Egypt fifty centuries before the Spaniards invaded the Western Hemisphere, and, as the Arabic tuba, survives to the present day. Nor have the methods of making and using the Egyptian sun-dried mud brick changed one iota since the prehistoric period. The modern brickmaker uses the same simple wooden mold seen in our plate, "strikes" his bricks in the same manner as did his remote ancestor, and leaves them to dry on the same flat mud surface under the same scorch ing sun. Only the size of the brick itself has changed, the New Kingdom bricks (14 x 7 x 42 inches) being larger than the modern product. The mud used for making bricks has always been the dark gray Nile alluvium, mixed with sand or chopped barley straw, and kneaded with water into a thick paste. The straw, though helpful as a binder and a drying agent, is by no means essential, many excellent bricks having been turned out, using only sand as a binder, or, if the clay content of the mud was high, with no binder at all. For six thousand years sun-dried brick has been the prin cipal building material of the Egyptians, far surpassing in the extent of its use cut stone. The latter, first employed in the IInd Dynasty, has been confined almost entirely to the construction of funerary and religious monuments, every other type of building-dwellings, city and temple walls, forts, storehouses, ramps, etc.-being of brick. At an early period the Egyptian not only learned the secret of the arch and barrel vault, but mastered methods of laying and bonding brick, which enabled him to construct walls and embankments ofenormous thickness, as,forex ample, the 80-foot girdle wall ofthecityofTanis. Without construction ramps, buttresses, sand-chambers, and temporary scaffoldingsofbrick, thepyramids atGiza and the temple of Amfin atElKarnak could never have been built, and it is therefore tothe ancient Egyptians' knowledge of the uses of the humbler material that weowetheexistence of these greatest of all stone monuments. Decline of Egypt inthe Late Dynastic Period A civilization like that ofancient Egypt cannot bewiped out in a day. It required, infact, almost nine hundred years-from the XIXth Dynasty totheMacedonian con quest in 332 B. c.-for thedynastic eratopass outofexist ence. During most of this period thecountry appeared out wardly as sound as ever and attimes seemed tohave recov ered much of its old splendor-notably, inthereign of Ramesses III of the XXthDynasty andduring thebrilliant, if fleeting, revival fostered bythe Saite kings oftheXXVIth Dynasty. Actually, however, Egypt wasonitslastlegs: priest ridden, economically unsound, sapped ofitsnative vitality by centuries of luxury andself-indulgence, overrun byfor eigners, and depending forits defense onanarmy composed almost entirely of mercenary troops. In its weakened condition itwasaneasy mark forthe new and powerful neighboring states, with which itnow found itself surrounded; and thestory oftheendofdynas tic Egypt is one of a long succession offoreign rulers, inter rupted at intervals by the short-lived and, forthemost part, local governments set up bypetty, native dynasts.