Quernstones, millstones and other stone artefacts

Many later Iron Age and Romano-British beehive and flat quernstones in South Yorkshire were manufactured from Millstone Grit outcropping at Wharncliffe Crags near Deepcar (Challis and Harding 1975: 23-25; Wright 1988: 74, 2007: 24); and probably also from other outcrops along the Rivelin Valley. Other sources of querns found in South Yorkshire include Coal Measures sandstones (Cruse and Gaunt 2016: 24), and further afield, Woolley Edge Rock to the south of Wakefield or in the Normanton-Hopetown area (Heslop and Gaunt 2008: 19). The earlier Iron Age saddle quern fragments recovered at Sutton Common were of sandstone, possibly from drift deposits (Watts 2007: 145).

Many querns were distributed widely across the study region, probably as roughouts to be finished elsewhere (Wright 1988: 74-75). The production site at Wharncliffe was surveyed and partially excavated in 1950-1960 although this work remains unpublished, but part of the quern manufacturing site was surveyed in more detail in 1999. Over 2300 quern roughouts were identified, of which 272 were beehive forms, and 1960 were flat disc querns (Pearson and Oswald 2005). This indicates a preponderance of Roman-period and later forms. These different types had varying distributions, with flat disc ‘blanks’ occurring across the site, but the beehive roughouts located mostly along the eastern margins, again perhaps reflecting chronological trends in quern working.

Across the wider Yorkshire region, and in South Yorkshire, older beehive forms persisted in use well into the 3rd century AD. Even saddle querns occur in some Romano-British sites, as at Rossington Grange Farm for example (Cruse and Gaunt 2015a: 72). Whilst many ‘native’ sites would have carried on using beehive querns, some beehive querns have been found in Roman military contexts in northern England, including Templeborough (e.g. May 1922: plate xliii). A major study of Yorkshire querns was underway by Donald Spratt but following his death in 1992 it is not clear if this will ever be fully published, though his work forms part of the Yorkshire Quern Survey archive. Heslop published a study of 562 beehive querns from North Yorkshire and County Durham (2008a), but such work needs to be expanded to include South and West Yorkshire.

The organisation and nature of quern production is unknown. Specific groups may have used larger quernstone ‘quarries’, producing querns seasonally when not engaged in agriculture or other subsistence tasks; or there may have been specialist communities or individuals concentrating on stone working. Manufactured querns could then be traded with other communities to obtain agricultural produce, commodities such as salt, or items of material culture. Alternatively, although certain social groups might have controlled access to quern working sites, others may have had rights to work stone in them (q.v. Ballard 1996; Sundstrom 1996). Gaining access to quern working sites could have been achieved through ‘payments’ to the controlling group. Production required technical skill but might also have required rites and propitiations to ensure the co-operation of the stone and the future efficacy of the querns. Any changes following the Roman conquest are also unknown.

Quernstones and quern fragments have been found in and around many of the South Yorkshire rural settlement enclosure sites, too many to list here, although not usually in large groups. Those beehive querns recovered from Roebuck Hill, Jump are unusual in being stratified and associated with Iron Age pottery (Wright 2007: 24). Querns were often treated in quite specific ways prior to deposition (Cruse 2015; Cruse and Gaunt 2015a; Heslop 2008a; see below), many being heavily fragmented and beehive querns having had their outer surfaces struck off; and they often formed part of more ritualised ‘placed’ deposits (see below). A beehive quern base stone found at Rossington Grange Farm had a 120mm diameter and 25mm deep circular depression deliberately cut into the otherwise flat grinding surface, but which showed no obvious signs of functional use (Cruse and Gaunt 2015a: 73, fig. 23). In North Yorkshire a small number of beehive querns possessed the same modification (Heslop 2008a: 66-7), which Heslop interpreted as a possible stoup for holding or receiving offerings. Alternatively, this also represented use or re-use as a mortar; or was even a form of quern decommissioning. A rotary flat disc quern found at FARRRS had a pecked circular groove as decoration (Cruse 2015: 13).

Few millstones have been recovered in South Yorkshire – a photograph shows several examples including one inscribed with a harp pattern from Templeborough (May 1922: 124, plate xliii), though these were not described in detail. This indicates that whatever the agricultural regimes practiced by communities the processing of cereals was still important to their diets, but for most non-military people this might have largely remained at the household level of production, even following the Roman conquest. This also suggests that there were few Roman-style animal or water-powered mills in South Yorkshire outside of army contexts.

In the early Romano-British period, flat basalt lava quernstones were imported from the Niedermendig quarries in the Mayen region of Germany and were initially associated with the Roman military (Buckland 1986; Crawford and Röder 1955). In south-eastern England they became part of civilian trade, especially in areas with no suitable local stone for quern production, but in the north their distribution was more restricted. They might have been imported with colour-coated wares from the Rhineland as ballast for cargoes (Buckland 1986: 22). They have been found in fort and civilian contexts at Doncaster and Templeborough (Buckland 1986: 22; Buckland and Magilton 1986: 49 100-1; Cool 2008b: 140; Heslop 2008b: 290; Wright 2016: 73), and at Thorpe Audlin (Houlder and Hedges 1982: 3, 1987: 2). There were fragments at the pottery production sites at Rossington Bridge (Buckland, Hartley and Rigby 2001: 27, 32) and St Wilfred’s Road, Cantley (Vince 2007b), perhaps originally from the fortress at Rossington. One lava quern fragment was re-worked into a rubber stone used at Billingley Drive, Thurnscoe (Wright 2004: 57-8, fig. 28 101). The import of querns from outside the region may have disrupted and undermined traditional stone-working practices and exchange, and the social and symbolic ‘meanings’ of querns might have changed for some indigenous people following the conquest. Individuals or communities moving into the region might not have shared such ideas. Flat Romano-British hand querns do not seem to have been treated in quite the same way as beehive querns, which might also imply differences.

One notable Romano-British find was an unusual complete but fragmented double-hopper hand quern of Millstone Grit excavated from a pit at Hatfield Lane, Edenthorpe (Cruse and Gaunt 2015b: 33); which has parallels with less-complete examples known from Doncaster (Buckland and Magilton 1986: 100, fig. 23.4), Templeborough (May 1922: 124, plate xlii), and Castleford (Buckley and Major 1998: 245, SF806). This was a post-conquest form whose main period of use was during AD 75–250 (Cruse and Gaunt 2015b: 34). They were commonly associated with auxiliary forts and might have been produced specifically for the military.

Research questions

  • How can we add to our existing knowledge of industries and crafts in this region, particularly the extraction and smelting of iron and lead and quern manufacture?
  • Can we identify potential sites and areas of Iron Age and Romano-British quernstone production more effectively? Can geochemical and lithological studies be refined in order to achieve this?
  • How can we better understand the exchange and deposition of quernstones?
  • With fragmented querns, it is rare that all pieces are found on site, and the rest must be removed elsewhere. Where did these fragments go, with whom, and what were they used for? Why were such practices carried out?
  • Do any quernstones and millstones from Templeborough survive in Rotherham Museum? Could these be fully catalogued, described, and published?
  • Can any possible sites of Romano-British watermills be identified?

Priorities and implementation

  • Funding could be sought to take the Wharncliffe excavation archive through to publication. Some of this work could be undertaken with members of local societies and other volunteers.
  • Any surviving querns and millstones from Templeborough should also be catalogues, photographed, described and published;
  • Funding should be sought to enable the Yorkshire Quern Survey archive to be fully compiled and published. The paper archive by Donald Spratt and David Heslop amongst others includes at least 7000 hand quernstones and over 500 millstones (https://www.yas.org.uk/Sections/Prehistory/Quern-survey). This is a valuable resource but would surely be better as an online database easily accessible to all researchers, also allowing numerous images to be included. Different stakeholder organisations such as Historic England and local authorities could jointly pursue this possibility, perhaps via the Archaeology Data Service. Once created, it could then be regularly updated;
  • There needs to be a comprehensive study to try to identify quern sources in more detail, using GIS-based geological predictive modelling combined with detailed petrological analyses. Can any other prehistoric and Romano-British quern working sites other than Wharncliffe be identified, or have they been destroyed by medieval and post-medieval quern working?
  • The locations of querns and quern fragments on-site need to be plotted and shown on the site plans included in reports and publications. Such spatial data is vital to understanding patterns of discard, practice and movement in and around sites (q.v. Chadwick 2004, 2015). Where possible, refitting of quern fragments should take place to try and analyse fragmentation and discard patterns (see below);
  • Quern assemblages from unpublished excavations such as those at Roebuck Hill, Jump need to be fully published as a matter of urgency (see below).

Other worked and carved stone

Stone spindle whorls and whetstones have been recovered at Doncaster and Templeborough (Buckland 1986: 27, fig. 15.12; Lloyd Morgan and Buckland n.d.: 64-5, fig. 24; May 1922: 124, plate xxxvii); and Rossington Grange Farm (Cool, Drinkall and Sitch 2016: 25). Stone cosmetic pallets were found at Doncaster.

Some monumental masonry excavated from Templeborough may survive in Rotherham Museum and should be photographed and described. Few other sites have produced architectural fragments. At Templeborough, the sculpted stonework included tombstone fragments re-used in later Roman structures (Buckland 1986: 28-9, fig. 16; May 1922: 127-132, fig. xliv-xlv), including monuments to “Crotus, son of Vindex, veteran of the IV cohort of Gauls, aged 40 years. Flavia Peregrina his devoted wife…erected this memorial to a most devoted husband”; “Cintusmus, a soldier of the fourth cohort of Gauls”; and “Verecunda Rufilia, a citizen of the Dobunni, 35 years old. Exingus her husband erected [this].” A plain stone altar and a fragment of another were also illustrated (May 1922: plate xxxix), though are not mentioned in the 1922 report. A notable find from South Yorkshire is the small stone altar 0.75m high discovered in 1781 at St Sepulchre Gate in Doncaster, with an inscription dedicated “To the Mother Goddesses” by Marcus Nantonius Orbiotalis (Buckland and Magilton 1986: 63-5, fig. 14; see cover image). Another altar dedicated to Mars was found in c. 1782 at Staincross Common (Collingwood and Wright 1965: RIB 622; Jackson 1858: 233) but has subsequently been lost.