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The Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society

Since 1863

For everyone interested in Yorkshire's past


What Do We Do?

  • We study prehistoric, Roman and early medieval equipment used for grinding flour and other materials.
  • Our paper archive covers over 7,000 hand-querns and over 500 millstones, making it one of the largest data banks in the country.
  • This resource provides the basis for publications researching developments in quern usage, with a focus on the north of England.
  • We respond to queries from individual or from local groups about querns that they have found.
  • We work with commercial archaeological units to provide either a) summary assessments, or b) more detailed quern reports for publication.  

How Have We Progressed?

  • Mortimer Wheeler, in 1954, cited the 13 beehive querns he knew from Yorkshire, as evidence of a ‘crude, pastoral, semi-nomadic economy’. 
  • Between 1955-66, Sidney Jackson and his volunteers at the Cartwright Hall Museum, Bradford recorded over 300 querns.
  • In 1980, Raymond Hayes, John Hemingway & Don Spratt collected data on 120 beehive querns from NE Yorks, demonstrating widespread adoption of a mixed farming regime in the area around the North York Moors during later prehistory and the Roman period.                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Throughout the 1980’s, Don Spratt built up a team of c.20 YAS members of the Prehistory Research Section, who reported on local quern collections throughout Yorkshire. By 1991, when he died, this Yorkshire Quern Survey (“YQS”) archive included data on almost 1,000 querns
  • David Heslop continued collecting quern data throughout the 1990’s. In 2008 he published his YAS Monograph on 562 beehive querns from N Yorks and S Durham, setting new standards for quern analysis.
  • Active work on the YQS archive resumed in 2002, when John Cruse was appointed YQS Quern Co-ordinator
  • Since then, the scope of the Survey has been extended, its research programme is now investigating the typology, chronology and distribution of the whole range of hand-querns and mechanically-powered millstones from early prehistory, through to the early medieval period. 
  • At the time of writing in 2017, our paper archive covers over 7,000 querns and over 500 millstones, making it one of the largest data banks in the country. Our main focus is quern development between the Mersey-Humber up to Hadrian’s Wall, whilst including supplementary data from other UK workers. 

 What Are Our Current Activities?

  • Annual YQS Meeting: Takes place each December, prior to the Prehistory Section Xmas meeting, enabling members to hear about on-going projects, together with a talk on a current research topic.
  • Outreach Activities: Since 2002, the Co-ordinator has given 39 talks to a total audience of over 1,500 people. We also respond to general enquiries from individuals about their querns, as well as to archaeological researchers seeking specialist assistance.
  • Assistance to Commercial Archaeological Units: The Co-ordinator and David Heslop (with lithological advice from Geoff Gaunt and Tony Benfield) have reported to eleven units, providing summary assessments for small evaluations or full site analysis for eventual publication, covering over 590 querns over the last ten years. Funds raised by this work has been recycled to the Prehistory Research Section to fund their projects and awards.   


What Are The Main Types of Grinding Equipment?

1. Saddle Querns



  • Split boulder set in ground: Typically 35 (+/-10) cm long, 20(+/-5) cm wide and 12 (+/-5) cm thick: 
  • Used with an upper stone to grind in a circular, or a back-and-forth motion; 
  • Used from 3,800BC into Roman period.



2. Beehive Rotary Querns


  • Typically 30 (+/-3) cm diameter and 17 (+/-7) cm high: 
  • The weight of the rotating upper stone (replacing the downward pressure needed for a saddle quern) crushes grain against a stationary lower stone, set into ground; 
  • Regional preferences in quern profile and stone type. 
  • Used by ‘native’ population from later prehistory into Roman times (200/100BC - 300/400AD).


3. Roman Disc Hand Querns

  • More compact design, typically 45 (+/-5 )cm diameter, 8 (+/-4) cm thick:
  • Initially German lava querns were imported by the Roman military
  • Several regional variants were then made in local stone
  • Used by soldiers, elite households and the ‘Romanised’ population throughout Roman period




4. Mechanically-Powered Millstones

  • Roman: greater than 50-55cm diameter, sometimes with complex central perforations in their upper stones
  • Powered by humans, animals or water, 
  • Several different designs have been recognised.




Where Can I Learn More About Querns? 

  • General: David Peacock: 2013: The Stone Of Life: Querns, Mills and Flour Production in Europe up to c.AD 500, Highfield Press
  • Beehives: David Heslop: 2008: Patterns of Quern Production, Acquisition and Deposition: A Corpus of Beehive Querns from Northern Yorkshire and Southern Durham, YAS Occ Paper No 5, Leeds
  • Site Report: RJ Cruse & D Heslop, with G Gaunt: 2013: Querns, Millstones and Other Stone Artefacts’ in L Martin, J Richardson & I Roberts, IA & Roman Settlement at Wattle Syke: Archaeological Investigations during the A1 Bramham to Wetherby Upgrading Scheme, WYAS, p165-183


John Cruse: YQS Quern Coordinator: