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Millstone quarries in the south of the Iberian peninsula from Protohistory to Modern Times

Abstract : Mills with stones were used since the beginnings of agriculture for grinding grains. Over time, they evolved from saddle querns, to rotary querns and mills, to the more sophisticated geared watermills, and windmills. Our study focuses on where and how the hard, abrasive millstones that equipped the different mills were produced in the south of Spain, from the third millennium BC to the 20th century. At the outset of our research, only a few millstone quarries were known. Now, more than 130 have been identified. Different sources were used to identify these sites. Conventional sources included old historical archives and texts, notably 19th-century geographical dictionaries. Most sites recorded in written sources, however, date to recent times. Older quarries, from the Roman period and Middle Ages, however, were identified by millstone analyses in museum depositories (roughouts in particular) combined with fieldwork. An additional source was the internet. Ignored by conventional sources, many sites are recorded along hiking trails or in local historical websites. A large section of this research is dedicated to establishing a first chrono-typological classification of the different types of millstones produced in these quarries. Due to the lack of published millstone assemblages, this work is not balanced, especially regarding the Middle Ages. Not all rocks were apt for grinding and there is evidence that specific rocks were favoured over others. In the Iron Age limestone tufa was preferred. In Roman times, biocalcarenites were the main rock along the Bay of Cádiz, whereas volcanics rocks, dominating the eastern half of our study area, travelled, at times, long distances from the two volcanic districts (Calatrava and SE Spanish volcanics). In more recent periods white limestones were favoured, possibly because they yielded a whiter flour. After describing extraction and fashioning techniques and tools, a classification of these quarries (MQ) is proposed based on whether the exploitation was of surface boulders (MQ-1) or bedrock (MQ-2). Saddle querns were mostly from surface workings (MQ-1a), whereas Iron Age and Roman models were fashioned from detached angular blocks (MQ-2b). True extractive quarries (MQ-2a) where cylinders were cut directly from bedrock yielding circular hollows, date to Roman times. There are also evidence of large surface blocks (karstic limestones, granite boulders) as extractive quarries (MQ-1b). Based on their morphology, the sites are labelled as follows: bench, pocket, pit, edge, trench, extensive contiguous, extensive dispersed and subterranean. In this study we have also examined subjects linked to millstone quarry infrastructure, such as tool maintenance, debris management, and millstone transport (both short and long distance). We have also examined the personel working at these sites from the point of view of their degree of specialty, organisation of crews, earnings and occupational hazards (notably silicosis). As to the subject of quarry ownership and control, there is evidence of vested interest of local authorities at least from the Middle Ages. Millstone production through time was for the most part local and regional. Only in Roman times did millstones travel systematically long distances. In the Middle Ages, with the abandonment of volcanic rocks, there was a return to the local and regional rocks. The introduction of the French silicieuse stones in the 19th century was the beginning of the end of millstone production in Spain. The coup de grâce, however, arrived with the introduction of the industrial steel roller, that not only terminated quarry work but ended the long tradition of milling with stones.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, April 29, 2014 - 10:23:28 AM
Last modification on : Friday, March 25, 2022 - 9:44:01 AM
Long-term archiving on: : Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 11:55:26 AM


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  • HAL Id : tel-00985009, version 1


Timothy J. Anderson. Millstone quarries in the south of the Iberian peninsula from Protohistory to Modern Times. History. Université de Grenoble, 2013. English. ⟨NNT : 2013GRENH014⟩. ⟨tel-00985009⟩



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