Wednesday 20 April 2011

Q is for Quern-Stone - that is what Q is for ...

King Arthur's Hall, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall
It is a portable hand-mill used for grinding corn, spices, herbs or similar substances.  They are found in the Celtic parts of Britain ... Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.  The lower stone is the stationery Quern, while the upper, mobile, stone is known as the hand-stone.

It is likely that they were invented by the ancient Greeks 2,500 years ago and brought to Britain by Celtic refugees from the Roman invasion of Gaul (France) in the 1st century BC.

The upper stone of a Scottish
hand quern from
 Dalgarven Mill,
North Ayrshire
The simplest quern consists of two stone discs – the upper of which is rotated by a small wooden handle; or the two stones can fit into each other ... the upper stone slightly concave, the lower one convex.

The stones were made from mill-stone grit and some places bear the name where many querns were quarried, eg Quernmore Crag near Lancaster.

Various types of querns have been found going back in antiquity, ours originating from the Mesopotamian era ... the ones that are found in archaeological sites are of the simple hand held sort.  They also found many other uses for the grinding mechanism of the Querns.

Revolving beehive quern-stones and
[lower] a saddlestone on display at
Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley, Yorkshire.
In the Shetlands tobacco was used as snuff after being ground by a Quern held in the user’s lap ... and here a lamb’s horn was used as a handle.

Fortunately mechanisms have made our lives much easier .. the thought of grinding corn using mill-stones is extremely off-putting! but that’s the way life was ...

This is Quern-Stone - that is what Q is for ..    

Part of the ABC - April 2011 - A - Z Challenge - Aspects of the British Countryside

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


MorningAJ said...

Archaeologists can detect quern use in skeletons because the dominant shoulder is always really well developed. (usually women, I might add!)

Sue said...

I feel so ignorant, comfortably though because you describe so well. Sue@JumpingAground (Alliteration & drabbles)
Sue@traverselife(Workplace bullying)

Snowbrush said...

I hear them called metates in the American southwest, and I own a few of the handstones (called manos). I just did a quick net search and couldn't find how far they go back in time, but since they would have been sorely needed as long as people have grown grain, and since they would surely be an obvious solution to the problem of making meals and flours, I should think that they were invented well before 2,500 years ago. I did read that they're found in all parts of the world.

Vicki Rocho said...

Fascinating - I didn't realize that's what those things were called. Thanks for sharing

MTeacress said...

Hi Hilary. Thank you for following my blog. :)

You've got some very interesting posts, and a unique approach to the A-Z Challenge. I like it.

Have a wonderful week.

Theresa Milstein said...

What an interesting piece of rock. Some date all the way back from Mesopotamia? Pretty cool.

There's a place near me that hand grinds chocolate. I wonder if they use the same type of stone.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Morning AJ .. thank you for that .. I learnt a little about skeleton development from the Stirling Castle skeletons - not sure if you saw that tv show - I did post about it.

I find it fascinating that archaeologists can now determine what our ancestors might have been doing if part of the skeleton is 'odd' - well developed as you say.

In this instance corn grinding did seem to be done by women - you're right!

AJ - Wonderful addition to the post - thank you.

@ Sue .. don't feel so ignorant - I am as well until I've written the post - it's called learning as you go.

@ Snowbrush - you're probably right .. I was concentrating on the British aspect (as I'm doing the ABCs of the British Countryside) - but knew I'd be picked up on their origin! Thank you!!

I'm sure they were in China and the Far East and perhaps travellers way back in time would have brought them in to India and on to Mesopotamia.

The same must have applied to the Americas ..

But absolutely - grinding stones would have been one of the first tools used.

Snowbrush - Many thanks for adding so much to the post - it'll expand our minds on the transport of ideas, travels and on food production .. very interesting .. the world, even then, could almost be described as small.

@ Vicki - me too - but now I know .. especially the Quern ones for grinding food etc Glad you enjoyed the post.

@ Michelle - pleasure .. I'm way behind - but I'll catch up. Delighted you're enjoying the blog & this series - my first!

You too have a good week and it's lovely having you here.

@ Theresa .. these millstones are amazing - as they come in all sorts of roughness depending on the rock used and the purpose for which the grinding is required. Millstones are found in various outcrops around Britain.

This type of stone was used as a tool in Mesopotamia, the concept was then passed on as each country was settled.

I'm not sure what they'd use for grinding chocolate .. - you'll have to check sometime and let us know.

Thanks everyone - loved the comments .. cheers Hilary

Raining Acorns said...

I was thinking what will you do when you get to those troublesome letters by Q and X. Well, for Q, you've come up with a real winner, for sure. And yes, I'm glad we don't have to do that anymore, too!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Q is for quite fabulous.

Ann said...

What an informative and fascinating post! I am learning every day.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Raining Acorns .. I had ideas - but did something different .. X is slightly challenging .. I can do this year easily enough!! Next?

Thanks - delighted it met the brief and you enjoyed it ..

@ Joylene .. thank you!! That's great ..

Cheers to you both .. have a good evening or day .. Hilary

The Old Silly said...

A "quern", hmm? Interesting tidbit of information--definitely grist for the mill!

Marvin D Wilson

Anonymous said...

Not heard of the Quern stone. Great Q post :O)

Southpaw said...

I haven’t heard of a quern before or at least that term. The Native Americans in the US have something similar but the base stone is just part of a boulder that they would grind stuff on. In certain areas you can see huge, flat boulders with wells dug into them from use.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Marvin .. as you so rightly say grist for the mill .. and something understandably that's stood the test of time and will remain until discovered - hence the archaeological recoveries.

@ Madeleine ... I was going to do Quoit - large megalithic stones .. we have them in Cornwall .. but Quern seemed slightly more universally British!

@ Holly .. you're right - as Snowbrush mentioned above .. it is a base stone with various methods of grinding .. that then required different type of top stones .. because these were portable for moving communities/families .. they were Querns ..

... until populations were more static and the industrial mills came into being - then millstones proper (as we understand them) came about.

Thanks Marvin, Madeleine and Holly .. great comments and lovely of you to be here .. Hilary

Arts web show said...

I've never heard of these.
It's amazing how people got by in the past, in this technological age such things are only ornaments. lol

MunirGhiasuddin said...

When I left India in 1972 to join my husband in England, we had some thing like this we called "Chukhy". We would grind sugar or even lentils. Wheat used to get sent to the mill, but small portions of grain would be grounded at home on a "Chukhy". Now all of the "Chuckhys are being replaced by electric food processors. They may have some hidden somewhere in some families. How culture changes!

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,
You give fascinating insight on many interesting topics. I found this a most interesting read and the historical aspects you add are most absorbing. Thanks for sharing this info on the 'Quern-Stone'.
And thus, me thinks you 'R' now going to do the letter 'R' :)
Cheers, Gary.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Interesting article...and I've got a new "Q" word for Scrabble!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Richard .. these would be good for you to use in your cookery shows or your rock ones??! As you say .. they are now only ornaments - heavy ones at that! - and deserve their place in museums.

@ Munir - wonderful you've added so much to this post - so interesting to have the history from India. Can you remember what the 'payment' was for using the mill to grind the wheat .. did you leave some flour?

I'm sure you're right about some families or communities having these 'Chuckys' tucked away somewhere.

And gosh doesn't culture change interesting to have this snippet added here - many thanks!

@ Gary .. I add little bits in as it opens the conversation up for me .. and leads readers out to other thoughts - this I find fascinating. So delighted to read you enjoyed it.

Also everyone seems to enjoy commenting as there's always something to say or extra to add in. Ah 'R' ..

@ Susan .. yes - you have .. Q's are always quite difficult aren't they!

Thanks everyone .. this is great - the 'Q' for Quern has got lots of extra tidbits added to the mix - love it - happy day today ... Hilary

Amanda said...

What an interesting blog you have, Hilary - glad I dropped by. :-) Love the idea of an A-Z challenge!

Anonymous said...

Q stones and other mill stones are very popular around here. People like oldest ones for their outdoor gardens. Many are the center pieces. And the more history the better. They make excellent conversation pieces.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Amanda .. delighted to see you here .. and thanks very much .. see you soon again - here or with you .. cheers ..

@ Stephen .. interesting .. I guess yours come from Mexico and the mountains? They certainly must make wonderful garden pieces - especially from the historical and geological discussion point of view ..

Thanks to you both for coming over .. cheers Hilary

Helen Ginger said...

Around here, if we've had good rains (which we haven't this year), we'll get fields of beautiful Bluebonnets. People don't pick them as much as they stomp through them to get pictures of their kids sitting on them.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Helen ... never mind - I'll move it across to R for Rare Flowers .. rather than crushing Quern Stones!!

Cheers Hilary

Patricia said...

I do not know if I can catch up - you are being faithful to the letters here and I am being busy busy with job hunting and preparing for the feast
Earth Day and Easter the same weekend and the Peace Choir is singing everywhere as is Arts Walk and The Procession of the Species Parade....and one child coming home

I have rented a movie about the stealing of a special stone from Scotland and the recovery of said stone. It is due to arrive soon

There are mill stones like this brought to New England and variations from the Native Americans - everyone needed to mill some grain for sustainance in order to live and survive.
Now we seem to be having digestion problems because we milled it too fine and destroyed the food value!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. gosh I forgot to come back and answer you .. yet - it sounds as though you've got loads going on .. I hope you're enjoying the time and events your sharing in ..

Not sure what your movie is .. but then I'm not brilliant with movies - enjoy it when it turns up ..and let me know what it's called ... please!

I'm sure these quern stones came over in the ships, while the Native Americans would have used similar ..

Now - as you say we are messing things up a little and our digestive tracts are rebelling sometimes ..

Look after yourself .. and enjoy the family time .. cheers Hilary