Slow Moving

I signed up for this class because the course description intrigued me with it’s mention of ancient cultures and survival, and promise of hands-on experience. So far the first four weeks have exceeded my expectations because we have consistently been experimenting with each topic covered in the class – even if we have not been successful in all regards.

The first week, we tried making fire with cedar planks and dowels. Although several groups were able to produce smoke, my own group was not able to procure anything beyond discolored wood around the area we were rotating the dowel. Towards the end of the class all the groups came together in order to create fire. It still seemed the most common result were blistered palms. We experimented with many different variations – using a bow to move the dowel, varying the notch and position of where the dowel created friction, etc. Although we were unable to create fire, the overall experience proved a slow, exhausting process, even when the entire group came together.

The second week’s activity, the manufacturing of mud bricks, proved much more accomplishable. The class split up into different groups, each allocated a different task. One group dug out a ditch to stomp mud in; another group spread out straw to create a surface to lay the bricks on to dry; and a third group sawed the cedar planks from the previous week into molds for the bricks. Then dirt and straw and water were combined in the pits and stomped together, then compacted into the molds – some bricks were even stamped with “USC” – and then left to dry in the sun. Although this experience was much more successful than the previous week’s and it was not so time consuming, as different tasks were allocated amongst the group, it was still a very slow and cumbersome process in comparison with today’s technology and the current pace at which our society operates.

Last week we made oil lamps and jars for brewing. The oil lamps were not as difficult to make, as I used to take pottery classes. However, I had never burnished jars before and I found the process to be very interesting. I am curious to see how the brewing results differ between the burnished and unburnished jars. Although I enjoyed the project for the week and personally wouldn’t mind spending time shaping oil lamps and burnishing pots, the processes for the oil lamps and jars took far longer than they would have in a modern assembly-line.

Janae Monfort

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One thought on “Slow Moving

  1. As expected, we got very dirty in class. Being told we were going to be building mud bricks, I expected to get muddy, but not that muddy. The process of making mud bricks is relatively simple, explaining why it was and still is a common building method. Dirt is mixed with water until the mud retains a moist clay-like consistency while pieces of hay are added for additional strength (similar to how rebar is used in slabs of cement). Once the mud is thoroughly mixed and the material is not too dry or too wet, it is packed into a mold as if one were cooking muffins or cupcakes. Finally, these bricks are removed from the mold and dried by the sun while being rotated to ensure complete drying. Now, after over a week of drying in the LA sun, the bricks are stronger and lighter, explaining why these bricks were commonly used in walls of buildings, huts, and other structures. Although simple, this building method provides an elegant solution to manufacturing strong building pieces, because of the simple resources needed. All one needs to make a mud brick is dirt, water, and some material to serve as rebar (anything from straw, grass, and even hair can work to add to the bricks strength). Having built an adobe house in my backyard as a project with my brother, I was quite familiar with the process; however, I still learned about ‘printing’ or ‘signing’ the bricks. Often ancient peoples marked their bricks with symbols to notify who built these bricks. This reminded me of modern day advertising, and was a fun, surprising fact to learn while I mixed straw and mud together with me feet. Granted modern-day tools such as automatic cement mixers can create better building material in a matter of minutes, I was surprised to learn how effectively feet are as mixing utensils.

    -Martin Keyt

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