Where are the roofs? A geo-ethnoarchaeological study of mud brick structures and their collapse processes, focusing on the identification of roofs

David E. Friesem, Georgia Tsartsidou, Panagiotis Karkanas, Ruth Shahack-Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Unlike floors that have been given a lot of attention in archaeological research, the study of roofs is long neglected. Here, we present a study of modern abandoned and burnt mud brick structures, conducted in southern Israel and northern Greece. Using macroscopic observations and interviews together with micromorphology, mineralogical, phytolith, and phosphate analyses, we show that roofs should be sought in close proximity to floors. We show that roofs practically seal activity remains on floors; thus, the importance of identifying roofs in the archaeological record lies mainly with the ability to estimate the integrity of floors and floor assemblages. While human behavior and maintenance practices are major factors in the deposition of primary activity remains on floors, the timing of roof collapse determines how well activity remains will be preserved. In addition, we show that the roof plays a major role in the degradation process of mud structures as wall degradation is enhanced after the collapse of the roof resulting in accumulation of mud brick degradation material on top of the collapsed roof. As most roofs in antiquity seem to have been composed of degradable vegetal materials, we found that not only they leave little evidence for their presence, but they also mix with vegetal activity remains. We therefore use the accumulation of mud brick debris as an indicator for the location of degraded roofs. Using microstratigraphy for the identification of both floors and roofs is significant in order to locate activity remains in the archaeological sedimentary sequence and to evaluate their state of preservation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-92
Number of pages20
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We are grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Lovatsis, who let us into their former and present houses with generous hospitality, without whom the project in Kranionas could not have been carried out. We are also indebted to Dan Gazit without whose guidance the excavation in Gvulot mud house could not have been conducted. We would like to thank those who helped us in the excavation at Gvulot: Itamar Ben Ezra, Efrat Bocher, Dan Cabanes, Maite Cabanes, Shira Gur-Arieh, Noa Lavi, and Aren Maeir who contributed the equipment. This research was funded by a grant from the Israel Science Foundation, Focal Initiatives in Research in Science and Technology (grant no. 527/09 to R. Shahack-Gross), and the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute. Finally, we thank Steve Weiner for his helpful comments and support, and the two anonymous reviewers for their useful suggestions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2013, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • Ethnoarchaeology
  • Floor
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Microstratigraphy
  • Roof
  • Site formation processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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