Friday, December 21, 2012

The Interconnected Ancient World II: A Tally of Bricks

When the Mormon pioneers entered Utah, life was anything but easy, and they had to make due with whatever they had available. One pioneer told Orson Hyde, “I labored hard under the pangs of hunger to put up a little adobie cabin and prepare to live, and at the same time my wife and children, pale with want, were ranging the hills and benches to find thistles and roots to eat, which we boiled in the milk of the remaining cows the wolves had not eaten.”[1] Sun dried mud brick, adobe, was the preferred building material. It was even suggested that the Salt Lake Temple be built “of the stone that is got in the Red Bute Kanyon, or of adobies, or of the best stone we can find in these mountains.”[2]

The term adobe is particularly associated with the southwestern United States, and came from the region of Mexico and Central America. Though mud brick is common in the southwest from prehistoric times, the origin of the term is Spanish, adobe.

The Spanish term, however, is not native to Spanish and first appears in the thirteenth century, when Spain was part of Fatimid Spain. It comes from Arabic, al-ṭūb “bricks.”[3]

The Arabic word, in turn, is not Semitic but borrowed from Coptic, tōbe “brick.”

The Coptic term derives from earlier Egyptian b.t “brick” and goes all the way back to the beginning of Egyptian history. The bricks themselves began to be used in the Naqada I period,[4] and were used for most forms of non-monumental architecture throughout Egyptian history. In Exodus, the main building material was mud brick (Exodus 1:14; 5:7-19).

Both the Children of Israel before their Exodus and the Mormon pioneers after their Exodus built their dwellings of the same material and used the same word for it.

[1] Orson Hyde, 24 September 1853, Journal of Discourses, 2:114.
[2] Heber C. Kimball, 9 October 1852, Journal of Discourses, 1:160.
[3] Hans Wehr, Arabic-English Dictionary (), 571.
[4] Dieter Arnold, The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egyptian Architecture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 34.