How to Make Mesopotamian Bricks

Mud brick was the primary building material in ancient Mesopotamia. Southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) was rich in the key component for making mud bricks — good-quality clay. People used it to build homes, city walls, and even palaces. The bricks could be pressed into a decorative mold to enhance the surface and coated with plaster to make them more weather resistant. Mud brick is still a commonly used building material in the Middle East, and the technique for making mud brick has remained essentially the same since ancient times.

  • Mud
  • Straw
  • Sand
  • Water
  • Wood
  • Milk or ice cream carton
  • Baking sheet

1 Making Bricks the Ancient Mesopotamian Way

Make a rectangular wooden mold. Shape it like a shoe box without a top and bottom. As an alternative, a milk or ice cream carton cut so it's about 2 1/2 inches deep makes an excellent mold — the waxy coating will make it easier to remove from the brick later in the process. You can make your brick whatever size you want, but the size will affect its drying time.

Make a mixture of about 60 percent soil and 40 percent sand. Add chopped straw and water until the mixture is the consistency of stiff, moist dough.

Place your mold on a baking sheet and pour the mud mixture into it. Pack the mixture down to get rid of any bubbles.

Put your brick in the sun to dry until it is leather-hard (stiff and hard enough to be handled without losing its shape). Carefully remove the mold.

Leave the brick in the sun to dry completely. If you were making your brick in the Mesopotamian desert, it would take about two or three days to dry. You should leave your brick at least two or three weeks in the sun to dry.

Make a more durable brick by drying it in an oven. The ancient Mesopotamians are credited with the invention of drying clay in an oven, or kiln. Let your brick sun dry until it is leather-hard; then remove the mold and bake the brick in an oven set to 300 F for about four hours. The actual drying time depends on the size of your brick.

  • Oven drying the brick requires adult supervision.
  • Be green. Save energy by letting the sun do all the work of drying your brick.
  • Mud brick, or earth architecture, is experiencing a revival in many parts of the world. It is a renewable material that can help make more energy-efficient buildings.

Teresa Russo is a former educator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she wrote and produced educational media for nearly 25 years. She holds a master's degree in art history from New York University and has decades of professional experience in technology.