This paper is an experimental and numerical investigation of desiccation and the associated cracking. First an elastic formulation of the hydro-mechanical problem is presented, based on an analogy that can be drawn with thermo-elasticity. Then, the results of an experimental program are given, aiming at characterizing drying shrinkage strains and water content evolution, as well as the associated cracking and the value of the tensile strength. The validity of the modelling approach is shown in the light of finite element simulations of the desiccation cracking tests; the approach embeds crack propagation feature. Finally, the results of the modelling are discussed, which leads to some comments regarding the mechanisms of desiccation crack patterns formation.