Our possible saddle quern fragment and the difficulty of dating ditches

Here are some closeups of the possible saddle quern fragment found by John Barrett on Day 5 in Trench A.  An appropriate find for John, and his digging partner Christine, as they have more than a passing interest in querns!

If it was part of a saddle quern, it takes us a step closer to dating the ditch it came from.  In Scotland, the so-called ‘quern transition’—where the saddle quern was abandoned for the more efficient rotary quern—is thought to have occurred relatively quickly somewhere about 200 BC (Armit 1991).  If only it were this simple!  It’s quite likely that the fragment we found is that old, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the ditch is.  In the Iron Age, as in previous periods, everyday items like querns were often deposited deliberately in houses, ditches, etc.,  perhaps as a sort of offering, or to mark a transition of some sort: for example, the end of the life of a house, or to bless the beginning or building of something. So it’s possible that this quern fragment was deposited in this way, and then redeposited several times over a considerable period.  Before we can be sure about the age of the Cluny Hill ditch we will need additional evidence.

As for the type of rock used for this quern, it’s not the more common sandstone or schist.  In the closeup I think I can see quartz, feldspar, and biotite mica: so it may be a pale granite.  Anyone else care to hazard a guess?

Armit I 1991.  The Atlantic Scottish Iron Age: five levels of chronology.  Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland  121 (1991) 181–214.


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