Stone Age to Iron Age activity 6: Iron Age quern-stones and making prehistoric bread
An archaeological dig on Folkestone’s East Cliff has unearthed a huge quantity of mysterious carved stones.
Pupils investigate what they are, and what they can tell us about the site in the Iron Age.
Having discovered they are quern stones (used for grinding grain into flour) the children try out some fun recipes, using wholemeal flour and a range of Iron Age ingredients.
Image copyright: Canterbury Archaeological Trust
Increased knowledge and understanding of the Iron Age settlement on Folkestone’s East Cliff.
Iron Age cooking.
KS1-2 History (Iron Age, Local area study).
KS1-2 Geography (use of maps, trade routes)
Lots of useful background information for teachers can be found in this excellent teacher’s resource, Investigating Folkestone’s East Cliff, from Canterbury Archaeological Trust.
Pages 12-14 give a very good summary of the site in the Iron Age, before the Roman Villa was built.
Start with Learn with Objects Stone Age to Iron Age 3: quern stones. Look at the photo of the complete quern stone, and the smaller fragments on the interactive whiteboard.
Tell the children the photo shows a large heavy mystery object that’s just been uncovered by an archaeologist at Folkestone’s East Cliff.
Ask the following questions:
- What’s the small tool with the wooden handle?
- Is it one of the finds, or something used by an archaeologist?
(It’s the archaeologist’s trowel)
Look at the large round object in the centre of the picture.
- What words might you use to describe this object?
- What do you think it is?
- Why is there a hole in the middle?
- Is it the only artefact in the photo?
(can you spot the broken fragments?)
Watch the short video of a rotary quern in action (on the same section of the Learn with Objects website) to discover what this object is used for.
After they’ve seen the video ask the children the following questions:
- Which bit of the rotary quern did the archaeologists at Folkestone discover?
(the top stone with the hole in it).
- Why is it called a rotary quern?
- What do you put in the top?
Grain (wheat, barley or oats)
- What happens to it?
It gets crushed into flour
- Where does it come out?
All around the edge where the top and bottom stones meet.
- What did Iron Age people make with the flour?
Bread and lots of other things too (we’ll investigate Iron Age recipes later, and make some food using wholemeal flour). Most Iron Age families would have a rotary quern in their roundhouse and make their own bread.
- What kind of stone do you think is best to make a quern?
Fairly hard, rough, gritty stone - so it grinds the grain into flour easily, but isn’t too hard for the stone mason to carve it. In the north of England, a stone called millstone grit was used. But in Folkestone it was the Greensand, a stone found in the cliffs at Folkestone.
The information below provides further information about the Iron Age quern stones from Folkestone’s East Cliff. It can be printed out to help the children in their research.
From the late 1980’s onwards, large numbers of Late Iron Age and early Roman rotary querns, made from the local Greensand stone, began to be recovered from the beach below the Folkestone Roman Villa site. Most of the several hundred recorded were unfinished, indicating that the production site was nearby.
All excavations at the Folkestone Roman Villa site on the East Cliff have produced finds of unfinished querns, in addition to those recovered from the base of the cliff. It is now clear, that the production site covered a large area on the cliff-top. Those found on the beach have been deposited as a result of erosion of cliff-top deposits.
The Greensand stone outcrops at the base of the cliff to the south of the site, at Copt Point, where it can be extracted without the need for mining. The blocks of stone would have been quarried here and dragged up the steep slope from the beach at Folkestone Warren to the production site on the East Cliff. Archaeologists even found evidence of a trackway heading towards the beach.
The Greensand stone was shaped using a range of iron tools including hammers, axes, adzes and chisels. Sometimes the stone broke unexpectedly, and the unfinished or broken stone had to be discarded. That’s why so many broken and unfinished quern stones have been found by archaeologists on Folkestone’s East Cliff. The archaeologists also uncovered an area littered with thousands of stone chippings, indicating where stone masons sat to do their work.
A lot of quern stones traded from Folkestone have been found by archaeologists in East Kent, indicating the majority were sold locally, but they have also found plenty of examples at sites along the Thames valley, indicating they were shipped around the coast of Kent and up the River Thames. It is possible that ships from across the Channel stopped in East Wear Bay to unload some of their cargo (including luxury goods), before picking up a consignment of quern stones to fill up their hold, and continuing on their voyage around Kent and up the River Thames.
Look at a map of Folkestone. Locate the beach at Copt Point and the East Cliff. Imagine you are a group of Iron Age quern-makers. How are you going to transport big blocks of Greensand stone from one site to the other? They are far too heavy for one person to carry by hand! What kinds of transport and technology do you have? What’s the easiest route? It might not be the shortest. What about the tide?
Work in small teams to come up with some efficient and imaginative solutions. Then share your ideas with the rest of the class.
Make Iron Age bread
Pupils research Iron Age bread to answer the following questions:
- What was Iron Age bread like?
- How did they cook it?
- How is it different to our bread today?
- What else did Iron Age people make with flour?
They then find and cook some recipes using wholemeal flour.
There are some good recipes for griddle cakes, fruited bread and oat cakes here.
Be aware of any children with food allergies, and avoid recipes with ingredients they are allergic to.