What is a beehive quern?

July 25th 2017 by Lydia Smith

On Monday we paid a visit to Reading Museum, so Hannah and I could see some more of the Archive’s collection that was on display, and see if there was anything we could use for our projects. We weren’t disappointed! The exhibition case is jam-packed with information and artefacts detailing the history of milling, and how society has progressed alongside the milling industry.
Poster Image

One of my favourite pieces on display was a beehive quern, which likely dated to the Iron Age or at least to the 2nd century BC! This type of quern is an example of the very early methods used for grinding, which makes you appreciate if it were not for this primitive tool, we may not have the modern industry we know today. Mildred also explained that the beehive querns have a certain element of mystery to them because while there are many top stones available, very few lower stones have survived.

This begs the question, where did all the base stones go? Historians have speculated reasons and presented many suggestions: possibly they were more fragile and broke easier than the upper stone, or that the materials were needed and had a change of use? This would certainly explain why some excavations of lower stones have found them seemingly deliberately placed in position. It seems unlikely that the lack of base stones is just due to a lot of clumsy people and some unfortunate coincidences! Whatever the reason, it is fascinating to consider the possibilities that may explain this mystery. Besides what was on display, we were also taken to look at what the Archive had left in the museums storage, which included several posters advertising upcoming mill auctions, one of which dated from 1864!

This photo of part of the exhibition shows the beehive quern on the left:

We managed to bring a few pieces back to the Archive, some of which I hope to feature as gems, so there may be something to look out for! It was good to see a bit more of the collection, as understanding history is often made easier through holding and seeing physical artefacts that represent a key part of our past.