Jessica Legresley

Jessica Legresley

Jessica Legresley (MPhil Candidate)

Quern stones in later Irish prehistory

Supervisor: Dr Katharina Becker
Prehistoric Transitions Research Group


The aim of this project is to take a fresh look at querns stones in Later Irish Prehistory, corresponding to roughly the last millennium BC, and to examine their economic as well as socio-cultural function and significance. In other words an attempt will be made to find out why, where and how quern stones where used in Ireland.

Caulfield and Connolly have to date compiled the most complete inventories of Irish querns, the first of Beehive rotary querns and the latter of Saddle querns. Their studies however, from to 1977 and 1994 respectively, are out of date as they both precede the proliferation of developer lead excavation projects of the last twenty years. Furthermore while comprehensive they leave more questions than answers, questions that it is hoped a more extensive data set will be able to clarify. The main issues that need to be re-examine are dating, typo-chronology, theories of use and symbolism. Of particular importance will be an attempt to clarify the chronology and typology of the rotary quern, with a special focus on when this new technology arrived in Ireland. In order to attempt this an update of the catalogues to include new excavated examples and stray finds will be the first focus of the project. Comparison with the material and data from Britain and Europe will also be undertaken to further explore theories of introduction and dispersal. Once this is done I will also aim to understand the contextual and landscape archaeology relevant to both saddle and rotary querns by looking at where they are distributed in relation to each other, as well as to the wider cultural spheres of Bronze and Iron Age Ireland, i.e. settlement sites, burials, monumental structures and the natural landscape. I will also endeavor to find out what materials where preferred, as well as where the querns were manufacture and found in order to map out distribution zones.

Lastly I will aim to understand the economic function of quern stones in Ireland as well as examine what effects and causes, if any, the adoption of the rotary quern had on agricultural and technological practices during the Iron Age. This will draw on recent studies of macro remains (e.g. McClatchie 2014) and will link in with the departmental research project (INSTAR – SEEING beyond the site) that considers land use and agricultural practices over the course of Later Prehistory in Ireland via the examination of macro remains from sites and paleo-palynological work. It will also entail the exploration of other theories of use such as in Iron working, burial and brewing contexts.

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