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Grain and millstone
Millstone, rubstone
Slave / servant with millstone, Ancient Egypt, 6th Dynasty

The grinding stone, also known as a grinding stone or hand mill , is a device for converting grains, primarily the various types of grain, into flour . Millstones were also used for crushing ore, processing clay, and crushing coloring materials ( ocher ). A distinction is made between the older saddle mills, which are moved back and forth, and the younger rotary mills . A set of millstones consists of a runner (moving upper millstone, also called a friction ball) and an underlying or bearing stone (lower millstone, immobile).

The word for mill (Old High German muli ; from Latin molina or Latin molere for “to grind”) is of pre-Indo-European origin. Thus, a word for millstone may have accompanied Europeans, Africans and Asians for several millennia.

A flat, slightly hollowed stone, on which, for example, medicinal drugs are ground, is called a rubbing stone (Middle High German rībstein ).



The oldest millstone (around 27,000 years old) comes from the Cuddie Springs site in Southeast Australia. The archaeological excavations are supposed to show that primitive grain cultivation has already taken place in this area, but this statement is very controversial, as all grains were not native to Australia.

Anna Revedin used starch residues on millstone tools from the Czech Republic, Russia and Italy to demonstrate that around 30,000 years ago, wild herbs, apparently reeds and fern roots, were ground to flour.

A recent study by Danish scientists discovered the oldest bread leftovers made from wild einkorn , barley , oats and beach ledges in a fireplace in the Natufien settlement of Shubayqa 1 in northeastern Jordan, at 14,400 years old . This proved that bread-baking and thus also the grinding of grain and seeds was developed at least around 4,000 years before the development of agriculture and grain cultivation.


The first real millstones appear in the Levant at the end of the Epipalaeolithic ( Ohalo II ). At that time arable farming was not yet to be expected. As the Israeli biologist Lev Yadun notes, those wild grains that were first domesticated were restricted to an area in northern Syria and southeastern Anatolia at the end of the Ice Age . So wild grain was ground on the millstones . Scientists analyzed the starch grains that were preserved on a millstone discovered in Israel. They can be assigned to certain plant species: wild barley or wild wheat . There was no evidence of the processing of roots or tubers on the millstone.

The mortars that emerged at the same time , in which z. B. Millet is pounded, were used in the Levant for pounding coloring substances.

Bronze age

In the early Bronze Age settlement of Goldkuppe near Diesbar-Seusslitz in Saxony , a deposit of three complete, unused millstones made of Zehrener quartz porphyry was found.

Napoleon hat made from Eifel basalt lava

Iron age

In the early La Tène period , so-called Napoleon hats , which were made from Eifel basalt lava , were in use. The hand turning mill has been known in Central Europe since the middle La Tène period . A variety of rub stones have been found in the Celtic-Roman city of Numantia . Millstones made of Mayen basalt lava were already made from basalt lava from the Mayen mine field in Roman antiquity .

Grave goods

More than 20,000 years ago, a millstone was placed under the head of the deceased by Ohalo in the Levant . Millstones were also located under the heads of the dead in some of the ribbon pottery burials . For this reason, some researchers consider them to be the precursors of the tombstone, which is rather unlikely.


According to the Mosaic Law , millstones were not allowed to be seized, as they belonged to the essential objects: “One must not take the hand mill or the upper millstone as a pledge; because then one takes life itself as a pledge ”( Deuteronomy 24.6  EU ). The loser was considered particularly hard: “His heart is as solid as stone, as solid as the millstone below.” ( Job 41:16  EU ). The evangelist Matthew obviously refers to a larger rotary mill , as it arose in the time of Hellenism : “And of two women grinding at the same mill, one is taken and one is left behind” ( Matthew 24:41  EU ).

From flour to miller

Originally, each family ground their own grain to flour if necessary; Flour stocks were usually not created. The miller's profession existed in the 1st century BC at the latest. In the Roman Empire , where the first mills were discovered that turned the millstone with the help of water power ; the development of windmills is very likely a later development.


It is known that the ancient Egyptians, to whom tools made of iron were still unknown, smoothed the surfaces of stones with the help of rubbing stones; Something similar is assumed for the almost perfect stone work of the Inca in Peru .

See also


  • Nicole Kegler-Graiewski: Milling and grinding stones, article no. 69 , pp. 779–790: in Harald Floss: [Ed.] Stone Artifacts - From the Old Palaeolithic to the Modern Era, Kerns Verlag, Tübingen, 2013, 2nd ed.
  • Simcha Lev-Yadun, Avi Gopher, Shahal Abbo: The Cradle of Agriculture. In: Science. Vol. 288, No. 5471, 2000, pp. 1602-1603, doi : 10.1126 / science.288.5471.1602 .

Web links

Commons : Rubstones  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Jürgen Martin: The 'Ulmer Wundarznei'. Introduction - Text - Glossary on a monument to German specialist prose from the 15th century. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1991 (= Würzburg medical-historical research. Volume 52), ISBN 3-88479-801-4 (also medical dissertation Würzburg 1990), p. 162.
  2. ^ Richard Fullagar, Judith Field, Lisa Kealhofer: Grinding stones and seeds of change: starch and phytoliths as evidence of plant food processing. In: Yorke M. Rowan, Jennie R. Ebeling (Eds.): New Approaches to Old Stones. Recent Studies of Ground Stone Artifacts. Equinox Pub, London et al. 2008, ISBN 978-1-84553-044-0 , pp. 159-172.
  3. Discovered the oldest bread in the world. scinexx, July 17, 2018
  4. Desire for greenery - 30,000 years ago people were already processing plants into flour
  5. The Shubayqa Archaeological Project