Give us this day our daily bread: A study of Late Viking Age and Medieval Quernstones in South Scandinavia
By P. Carelli and P. Kresten
Acta Archaeologica, Vol. 68 (1997)
Introduction: Porridge and bread were by far the two most important elements in the Viking Age and medieval diet. The main ingredient was barley, and to soem extent also rye, oats, and wheat. To make the grain digestible as food, however, required careful preparation; the grain had to be crushed or ground. When only the hull was crushed, the resulting grain was suitable for boiling. To bake bread, the grains had to be broken down more finely, which could be done by grinding in a quern or mill.
Grain was normally kept unground on the farm. It was only ground when it was to be used, and then only as much as was needed for the moment, to bake bread or make porridge. This meant that grinding was a recurrent job in most households. The quern must have had to be rotated daily, or at least several times a week. It is reasonable to assume that the quern was one of the most central points in the household, fully comparable to the well and the hearth.
Corn milling has also been described as man’s “oldest and, at least until the breakthrough of modern industrialism, probably also most important industry, playing a significant role in the history of human development.” In all stages of peasant society, the grinding of grain has been crucially important. It is therefore not particularly surprising that the quern in most cultures has been regarded as a life-giving tool, the instrument that transforms grain into meal for transformation into bread. And there are many literary sources to illustrate this, from the Bible to the Mill Song in the Elder Edda. The quern was simply a precondition for man’s vital daily bread.