Mudball: The Movie

This video shows the beginning of an experiment to get plants to grow on the top of a wall stub at the site of Gordion, Turkey (June 2006). After you see the movie, read the article about a serendipitous discovery about ancient mudball technology (Expedition 48(3): 40-41)

See the video on YouTube!

Julie (left) drawing Naomi making mudballs; Kim (right) making mudballs, photographed by Naomi (see feet).

In order of appearance: Sarah Cleary, Naomi F. Miller, Kim E. Leaman

Cinematography: John "Mac" Marston

Editing for website: Amy Ellsworth

Here is an approximate transcript:

Naomi (voiceover for Sarah Cleary): As part of the building conservation work at Gordion, we're experimenting on this wall stub in Terrace Building 2. A soft cap of soil will have plants, seeds, or no treatment, and we put sensors to measure temperature and moisture over the coming year.

Naomi: Kim and I are going to be making mudballs. Special mudballs with a special mix for TB2, Terrace Building 2. It's going to have mostly Poa bulbosa, with a little bit of Androsace, Scabiosa, Hordeum murinum and Alyssum mixed in.
The purpose of the balls is to protect the seeds when you can't really plant them. We'll set them out on the site, and when the first rains come the balls will melt. And hopefully, this mix of the Poa, which is a perennial grass with very shallow roots, and which hopefully will do very nicely on the walls...and I've mixed in a few annuals, so that even if the Poa fails, maybe we'll get at least something growing up there, on the wall stubs.
So, to make the mudballs, I tried it out and we'll have a mix of 3:1 sieved backdirt from Brendan's trench...and that's going to be three (1...2...3), and one of clay, from what has been taken from the terrace building and that has been sitting there for a while.
Mix it up a little bit with enough water to make a mixable mud.
Now, the mudballs were most recently suggested by Frank Matero, who learned about it from elders in Santa Clara and San Ildefonso pueblo. I had been thinking earlier about putting seeds in mudbrick, but didn't know quite how to do that, so never got very far.
What do you think, Kim?

Kim: I think it looks fantastic.

Naomi: Great.

Kim: I've been waiting for this all day.

Naomi: First you make a ball. I just made this with too much water, but we'll find out. I can see already this is going to be a problem, but maybe this is why two hands are needed. Kim.

Kim: Yes.

Naomi: Why don't you take a little pinch, a pinch of miscellaneous seeds and just press them in there. Then, we cover that up and put it here.

Naomi (voiceover for Sarah Cleary): Next year, we'll see if there's any difference between the treated and untreated wall stub, and between the mudball, seeded, and planted area.

This page created August 14, 2006.

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