Diameter: 55.000 cm
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
Iron Age, about 400-300 BC
From Burton Agnes, East Yorkshire, England
A revolutionary domestic appliance
This is the top part of an Iron Age rotatory quern. Quern stones such as this one would have been found on almost every Iron Age farm and village. They were used to grind grains of wheat, barley or rye into flour to make bread and other foods.
A rotatory quern consisted of two quern stones, one on top of the other. The lower stone did not move; the top stone was turned around a wooden axle that passed up through the hole in its centre. A slot on the top stone, which can be seen in this example, was fitted with a wooden handle used to turn the stone around. The hard, rough surfaces of the quern stones moving against each other ground the grains into flour.
The rotatory quern was an important new technology that probably transformed daily life in Iron Age Britain. The idea for a rotatory quern arrived in Britain in the middle of the Iron Age (about 400-300 BC) and quickly spread. Before this time people used saddle querns. The new rotatory querns made flour-making much quicker and easier.
The hard stone used for quern stones was cut from particular quarries across Britain. It is often possible to identify the location of the quern's source by examining small samples of stone under a microscope. This allows archaeologists to reconstruct the, often long, journeys that querns travelled when they were traded or exchanged.
S. James and V. Rigby, Britain and the Celtic Iron Ag (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)