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February 12, 2014

CONTACT: Robin Ngo
The Biblical Archaeology Society
Phone: 1.800-221-4644 ext. 208
Fax: 202-364-2636


WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 12, 2014)— An American archaeological team is making mudbricks in Egypt—or at least was in 2013—just like the Israelite slaves in the Bible, and is using some of them to reconstruct ancient mudbrick structures at Tell Timai in the Nile Delta.

A team from the University of Hawaii led by Professor Robert Littman is studying the process of mudbrick manufacturing scientifically, but also practically. The archaeologists wanted to see what it was like if they were required to make the bricks, but also, like the ancient Israelites, to gather their own straw while producing the same daily quota of bricks.

The archaeological team started with mud from topsoil that included clay, silt and sand, collected from alluvial deposits of the Nile. To make mudbricks that would support the weight of large structures, however, required the addition of straw temper.

As in ancient times, the straw was obtained from the fields after harvest or from the threshing floor. Chopped into small pieces, the straw was added to the mud. The watered mud was then kneaded—with bare feet, still the best method. When this mixture fermented, it was poured into wooden molds from which the bricks were formed.

An Egyptian tomb painting from the 15th century B.C. vividly pictures the process of brick-making by slaves, some of whom are identified as Semitic.

The Bible does not tell us what the Israelite quota was, but an ancient leather scroll in the Louvre from the time of Ramesses the Great (13th century B.C.) fixes the quota of each stable master at 2,000 bricks a day. In two days, the American team also managed to produce nearly 2,000 bricks.

In the Bible the Israelites were required to produce the same number of bricks and to supply their own straw, without reducing their quota of bricks (Exodus 5:6-13). The modern team experimented to see whether the straw was really necessary. Their bricks without straw were fragile and broke easily. The straw was absolutely necessary.

The archaeologists reported on their work in “With & Without Straw: How Israelite Slaves Made Bricks” in the March/April 2014 issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review, the world’s largest circulation Biblical archaeology magazine. Additionally, visit Bible History Daily to see a slideshow of the team of archaeologists replicating ancient mudbrick-making practices at Tell Timai.