The Temporary Exhibition of the Mechanism and the Antikythera shipwreck...>>

Manually operated quern, consisting of a pair of millstones

Material: Whitish, coarse stone
Provenance: Antikythera shipwreck
a) From the material retrieved in 1900-1901
b) From the material retrieved in 1976 (17.6.1976)
Date: Early 1st c. BC
Dimensions: a) Onos ( Όνος, catillus) (upper millstone): H. 0.13 m., d. (above) 0.31 m., (below) 0.35 m.
b) Myle (Μύλη, meta) (lower millstone): H. 0.08-0.12 m., d. (upper) 0.35 m., (lower) 0.28 m.
Inv. no: Athens, National Archaeological Museum a) 15556, b) 15563
Room:Temporary Exhibitions Wing, Room I

Preserved intact. The hand mill (mola asinaria) consisted of two contiguous millstones: a) the onos (όνος, catillus), the upper stone, and b) the myle (μύλη, meta) below.

The onos is conical in shape: made slightly concave on its bottom surface, i.e. the grinding surface, in order to fit perfectly on the convex myle. It has a circular perforation (d. 0.075 m.) at its center, and on its outer narrow side a rectangular socket (0.04 x 0.03 m.; depth 0.06 m.). There is a second, very small opening on the onos's upper surface above this socket. The myle, which was slightly rounded or pyramidal on its upper surface, has a circular depression (d. 0.03 m., depth 0.03 m.) at its center.

The movement of the quern (mola asinaria) was essentially that of the onos: only this part rotated, around a vertical iron axle; the myle remained still. The axle passed through the onos at its central opening and rested in the hollow at the center of the convex myle. From the hole at the center of the myle, we know the diameter of the axle (0.03 m.). Grain to be ground was passed through the perforated opening, the "eye", at the center of the onos. To prevent the seeds' scattering outside the mill, a shallow funnel was worked into the top surface of the onos - its walls sloping slightly in towards the hole. The rotary motion was facilitated by a wooden or metal handle set vertically in the special slot-socket at the periphery of the onos. No traces of lead are preserved in the socket. However, the small opening on the top surface of the onos, exactly above the socket for securing the handle, would doubtless have served to receive the lead when poured. Coarse stone was employed for the construction of querns, as the rough surface of the material increased friction and thus facilitated grinding.

Despite the disparity of views among scholars concerning when the rotary quern was introduced into the Greek world, it seems to have been in general use before the Late Hellenistic period. It had many advantages over the earlier, heavier "Olynthus type" hand mill. Rotary hand mills were small, portable, easy to use, and cheap to construct. For this reason they were widely used by all social classes. Furthermore, the possibility to adjust the distance between the concave onos and convex myle permitted complete control in the grinding of products, from coarser- to finer-grained.

Hand mills are not a common find in shipwrecks. Very rarely were they shipped as a commercial product: the Isla Pedrosa shipwreck off the coast of northeast Spain, which sank between 150-140(?) BC, yielded 200 paired millstones of volcanic stone. Sometimes, as documented by their find spots - normally along the length of a ship's central axis - millstones worn from heavy used in grinding were reused as counterweights or ballast: thus, the Kyrenia shipwreck, which sank between 310-300 BC, the Mahdia shipwreck which went down between 110-90 BC, and shipwreck A at Capo Rasocolmo, Sicily, which foundered in 36 BC.

No evidence exists for the exact find spot of the two millstones from the Antikythera wreck. However, the fact that up to date, only one hand mill has been found in the cargo, leads logically to the conclusion that the two stones were employed by the crew for grinding, and not as commercial cargo or ballast.

Bibliography: Ν. Κaltsas-Ε. Vlachogianni-P. Bouyia (eds), The Antikythera Shipwreck: The ship-the treasures-the Μechanism,Catalogue of the Archaeological Exhibition, Αpril 2012- Αpril 2013, Αthens 2012, 56, cat. no. 22 (E. Vlachogianni).
On rotary hand mills generally, see Ε. Poupaki, Ο μύλος στην κλασική αρχαιότητα. Συμβολή στη μελέτη της τυπολογίας και της χρήσης ενός σημαντικού λίθινου σκεύους για αγροτικές εργασίες, Διαχρονία 3-4 (1998) 132-174. R. I. Curtis, Ancient Food Technology, Leiden - Boston - Koln 2001, 287-288, 339-340.

Position in the museum