2. Life Cycles of a Domestic Item: the technical dimension of querns

A few studies have already been undertaken on sites of the earliest Paris Basin Neolithic (Hamon 2006; Monchablon 2002; Pommepuy 1999). The large majority of grinding tools come from pits alongside the longhouses, used for refuse disposal. This explains why debitage occurs with broken tools and even natural cobbles in the assemblages. Paris Basin early Neolithic milling equipment consists of a roughly concave quern associated with a grinder, used with a back-and-forth linear movement. The length of the grinder is generally less than or equal to the width of the quern. Neither mortars nor pestles have been found in the assemblages.

2.1 Shaping of a quern

Most of the villages are located in valleys cutting through Secondary and Tertiary sandstone layers. Raw material procurement seems largely orientated towards local resources, available at a short distance of less than 10km. A brief review of the archaeological material from different sites shows raw material procurement from both alluvial and non-alluvial contexts. Remains of natural surfaces on the back and sides of grinding tools suggest the selection of blocks from river beds. These blanks of suitable form and dimensions require less investment in shaping-out to obtain a preform.

Querns and grinders follow a real scheme of shaping, even if this can be adjusted to follow the initial shape of the blanks. Technical characteristics can be interpreted as a means of compensating for the flaws in the raw material to obtain maximum efficiency. Querns and grinders follow the same stages and main scheme of shaping. The sides are first shaped by removing large flakes, in order to obtain the approximate morphology of the tool. The back of the tool can then be slightly flaked for improved handling or stability. If flaking is employed for the general shaping out, both pecking and polishing techniques can be used to finish the back and sides of a tool. They aim at regularising the handling surfaces, by smoothing the edges of the flake negatives. The active surface is prepared by coarse hammering and then completed by regular and fine pecking for real efficiency. The fineness of the pecking is proportional to the fineness of the desired final product: pecking plays a role in regulating the initial characteristics of the raw material. Giving a linear direction to the pecking enhances the abrasiveness of the surface; linear pecking is generally orientated at right-angles to the direction of motion. Retouch can be observed all along the edge between the face and the sides; their regularity prevents the edges becoming smooth, as this reduces the efficiency of the tool. Despite their rough appearance, it is these technical adjustments that really make the tools efficient.

Despite a certain variability, the dimensional analysis of querns and grinders shows that there is a link between the length and the width of the tool, maintaining an acceptable level of efficiency during grinding. This can be attributed to a certain degree of normalisation of these grinding tools. These standard modules would reflect a search for maximum efficiency in Neolithic milling equipment. The efficiency of the association of the quern and the grinder relies on a good fit of their active surfaces, on the weight of the grinder, on the ease of handling and on the compatibility of the active surfaces in contact. The correlation of all these parameters results not only in relative homogeneity in shaping the tools, but also the normalisation (but not standardisation) of the grinding tools. But this normalisation cannot be explained by functional reasons alone. It doesn't seem to be influenced by regional variations, or by the diversity of the raw materials available in the different valleys. Whatever the raw materials available, the scheme of shaping is the same. Even when granites are chosen for quern manufacture, the sequence of shaping is similar to the one used on sandstone, despite the technical difficulties. This demonstrates that a dimensional and technical normalisation of grinding tools depends on 'cultural choices', shared by Linearbandkeramik and Villeneuve-Saint-Germain populations.


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Last updated: Wed Jul 1 2009