Building Materials: Bricks and stones

Most construction in Palestine was of mud brick or stone, since on these dry rocky hillsides wood was scarce and therefore expensive, while mud brick was readily available and cheap to make. Mud and chopped straw were left to dry in the sun held together by a wooden frame. Cheap but weak, they were usually about 40cm square and maybe only 12cms high.

The stone used varied according to region. Near the coast, sandstone predominated, in the high country, limestone, and in parts of Galilee, basalt. Usually rocks and roughly dressed stones would be used. Such construction was not very strong, but until iron tools became available, true dressed stone ("ashlar" in Hebrew gazit) was extremely difficult to produce.

In the earlier period (Late Bronze Age, before the Israelite monarchy) the only use of ashlar was in pillars strengthening rubble walls. This technique combining economy with strength was popular with the Phoenicians (and so in the North of Israel) and continued into the Iron Age.

The wall in the picture on the right (from McMath Dan10) shows an older wall in Dan of uncut stone topped by two newer courses of ashlar.

Particularly fine ashlar walls have been found in Samaria (the capital of Israel in Amos' time). The blocks are well smoothed, even polished, with bosses sticking up to engage the next stone. Such construction demanded much skilled labor and expensive iron tools, so only the rich and powerful could live in houses of ashlar ("cut stone").


For more information see e.g. "Building Materials" in Negev

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© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.