Bricks are usually molded from clay, but in Karaba, a small African village in southwestern Burkina Faso, bricks are quarried out of the hillside. This hill is made of laterite, a reddish-colored rock rich in iron and aluminum.
Historically, laterite was cut into brick-shaped blocks and used in building. In Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and other southeast Asian sites, you can find many construction made of laterite. In more recent times, laterite instead of stone has been used in road laying because of the former’s porous nature.
Laterites can easily be cut with a spade into regular-sized blocks when it’s wet and soft. When the bricks dry, they harden as the moisture between the flat clay particles evaporates and the larger iron salts lock into a rigid lattice structure. It is said that the art of quarrying laterite material into masonry was first developed in the Indian subcontinent. Indeed, laterite was first described and named by the Scottish geographer Francis Buchanan-Hamilton when he discovered laterite formation in southern India in 1807. He named it laterite from the Latin word later, which means a brick.
The laterite brick quarry in Karaba has been operation for nearly thirty years. Using only picks and shovels, workers carve bricks from the solid rock and sell them in nearby villages to be used as building blocks for the homes and walls surrounding the communities.
These amazing pictures were taken by American photographer David Pace who has been photographing in the Karaba quarry every year since 2008.
“I am captivated by the architectural quality of the space, the dazzling color and the incredible men who work there. The quarry is like a magical, ever-changing work of earth art,” he said.
“The quarrymen work side by side in teams of three to five persons, but each man sells his own bricks and earns the profit for the bricks he makes. Although it is an incredibly strenuous occupation, the brick makers can earn a decent living by Burkina standards.”
“Today the quarry is bordered by dirt roads on every side. Someday, perhaps in just a few years, it will reach its limit and the work will stop. For now, it is difficult to say exactly how big the quarry is, and it changes from year to year. The overall length is perhaps about 150–200 meters, while the area being quarried is about 75–100 meters wide, and the “walls” can be 10–15 meters high.”
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