Understanding conflagration of one-story mud-brick structures: an experimental approach

  • Igor KreimermanEmail author
  • Ruth Shahack-GrossEmail author
Original Paper


Many Near Eastern destruction layers are characterized by burnt, partially collapsed, mud-brick structures. Despite the prominence of these layers in archaeological field research, the processes that generated these layers are little understood. In order to explain field observations and identify patterns that may be useful for archaeological interpretation, experimental burning of miniature single-story mud-brick structures was conducted. Two types of structures—covered by vegetal roofs or by mud-plastered roofs—were conducted. Each experiment was duplicated. Temperatures in chambers, walls, roofs, and floors were recorded continuously. Bricks, floor, and roof sediments were sampled and analyzed by Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy after the burned structures cooled down. The results showed that ignition of vegetal roofs does not produce a pattern recognizable in Near Eastern destruction layers, while chamber ignition within mud-plastered roofed structures produces patterns that most resemble field evidence. These include (a) upper portions of walls and mud roofs witness temperatures above 500 °C resulting in a mineralogical change that is identifiable by FTIR, (b) no significant heat in floor deposits, (c) higher temperatures in upper parts than the bottom portions of walls, (d) external walls experience heat diffusion to the outside environment and do not burn through, and (e) internal walls can burn through. The directly measured temperatures correlate with reconstructed temperatures via FTIR and with brick color patterns. Future field research should explore color patterns in cross-sections of mud-brick walls and apply FTIR spectroscopy to reconstruct distribution of heat across destruction levels.


Site formation processes Experimental archaeology Destruction Conflagration Mud-brick structures FTIR spectroscopy 



The experimental research was funded by the Ruth Amiran Fund for Archaeological Research in Eretz-Israel, the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Laboratory analyses were supported by funds available to R.S.-G. at the Laboratory for Sedimentary Archaeology, University of Haifa. I.K. was supported by fellowships from the Mandel School for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and the Institute of Archaeology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Our gratitude is extended to Idit Porat, Itzik Gaziel, and the entire Hava & Adam – Eco Israel team for hosting the experiments and for their valuable guidance and help in the construction of the mud-brick structures and during the experiments, without them the project was not possible. We thank Yosef Garfinkel for his support and useful advice during the research. Special thanks are to Mathilde Forget and Zach Dunseth for helping with data collection in the field, Robert Henry, Michael Freikman and Don Butler for video and stills recording during the experiments. Last but not least are dozens of volunteers from Hava & Adam and the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University who helped during the construction of the structures and during the experiments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Archaeology and Mandel School for Advanced Studies in the HumanitiesThe Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael
  2. 2.Department of Maritime Civilizations, Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies, Leon H. Charney School of Marine SciencesUniversity of HaifaHaifaIsrael

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