Earthen architecture in Bronze Age Crete: from raw materials to construction
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Earthen architecture is a widespread phenomenon, both in the present day and the past. It is one of the most impressive expressions of the human ability to create a unique built environment from modest natural resources. Archaeological research has shown that mud brick manufacturing techniques can inform on community practices in relation to architecture. New geoarchaeological and microarchaeological approaches provide information on the source of raw materials in conjunction with the mode of manufacture and construction. The aim of this study is to investigate Minoan earthen architecture using mud bricks as an integral part of material culture in order to reconstruct the technological process of mud brick manufacture and to provide fresh insights about architectural craft specialisation in Bronze Age Crete. In order to fulfil this goal, more than 10,000 mud bricks are studied both macroscopically, by investigating broad trends in manufacture and construction form, and microscopically, by considering the finer details of raw material procurement and building performance through XRF, XRD and thin section petrography. This research places the geoarchaeological analysis of mud brick architecture within a specific multidisciplinary theoretical framework that combines archaeological data, architectural analysis and ethnoarchaeology. The analyses clarify how raw materials were selected and used within and between buildings. They also shed light on broader temporal changes, such as increasing technological sophistication, the type of labour force, if centrally organised or household based, and its impact on architecture. Earthen building forms and materials are the result of assimilation between the natural and built environment. Therefore the exploitation of specific raw materials sheds light on community strategies of adaptation to natural resources and their transformation into material culture. Research results indicate that mud brick manufacture was a standardised activity during the Minoan period with evidence of craft specialisation in raw source material selection, production and construction.