History

Earth buildings have probably been used for over 10 000 years.The oldest sun-dried blocks found are from an area located in the upper Tigris basin, and date back to 7500BC.InagraveatGizain Egypt thereare traces of 5000-year-old cast earth blocks. English archaeologists have found similar 3000-year-old construction techniques in Pakistan. In the Old Testament, references are made to earth blocks made with straw added: one of the Pharaohs gave orders that the children of Israel should not be given straw to make their blocks (Exodus, Ch. 5, v. 7). Because of its abundance, earth has been used for most of the 'architecture without architects'.There are many historical examples of pure earth towns, from Jericho toTimbuctoo, including temples, churches

Earth building at Ile d'Abeau in France. Photo: Alice Reite.

Earth building at Ile d'Abeau in France. Photo: Alice Reite.

and palaces. Both the tower of Babylon and the Great Wall of China were partly constructed of earth.

In both Peru and Chile, the Incas knewofthese building techniques longbeforethe Europeans came. The Mexican pueblo is the result of a well-developed earth block technique. Earth building can be found in most cultural periods in world history. An old Irish chronicle tells a story of the patron saint, Patrick, building a rectangular church of earth on the Emerald Isle. Inthesmall French village of Montbrisson isachapel,LaSalle de Diana, built with earth blocks in the year 1270; it is now the town library.

Earth building in central Europe flourished from the end of the eighteenth century and continued until the late nineteenth century.The method became particularly popular in Denmark, England and Germany. After the First and Second World Wars earth houses became popular once again. Towns and villages in Russia destroyed by the fighting were rebuilt in rammed earth, and in Germany around 100 000 earth houses survive from these periods.

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