Length: 55.4 cm
Width: 31 cm
Thickness: 6 cm
Weight: 23.3 kgs
Room 51: Europe 10,000-800 BC
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Quern stone used for making flour
Abu Hureyra, Syria
The oldest known tool for making flour found in the Middle East
This quern stone, used for grinding grain to make flour, was found at Abu Hureyra, an ancient settlement on the banks of the river Euphrates in modern Syria. The settlement began as a hunter-gatherer camp and developed into a village occupied by some of the world's earliest farmers. Finding an uninterrupted chain of evidence for this important transformation from hunting to farming in one place is rare.
Farming changes the way people live and how their societies are organised and this quern is an important record of such change. It is one of the oldest known documents of this transition in the world.
Seen from above, the quern is shaped like a saddle. It is made from basalt, a rock brought to the settlement from about 60 miles (80 kilometres) away and hammered into shape. As it is so heavy, the quern would be used on the ground. Packed round with small stones to keep it firmly in place, it was used for many hours of hard work. The narrow end probably touched the operator’s knees. Seeds, grains and pulses such as lentils were placed on the quern surface and then rubbed to flour using an oblong rubbing stone. The quern surface is dished and worn smooth by the prolonged grinding. The flour produced could be used for porridge, pastes or bread.
Skeletons found in burials at Abu Hureyra reveal that grinding was women’s work. Evidence of osteoarthritis and injuries to the toes, knees, hips and lower back caused by repetitive work in a kneeling position occur almost exclusively on the bones of females.
Growing and harvesting plants for their seeds necessitated a settled way of life and was a big change from simply gathering wild plant foods. This change occurred at Abu Hureyra because there were wild grasses and pulses in the area which could be gradually improved by cultivation.