The archaeologists working up at our new warehouse site at Coultorsay just south of the distillery have found a quern stone. The team are now concentrating on quite an extensive area of what is probably prehistoric occupation and are starting to find evidence of ditches, post holes, possible hearths and deposits of charcoal and bone.
It is not possible to accurately date any of this material at this stage but quern stones have been in use since the Iron Age. This appears to be the upper stone of a pair. Grain would have been fed into the central hole and the stone spun by hand on top of a lower stone to grind the grain into flour.
Guard Archaeology have people with specialist expertise in finds like this which will help give it context – as will the existence of charcoal deposits in association with the quern. It is apparent that this example is quite light – the stone disk is not thick.
There is of course a direct connection with quernstones and distilling. The illicit distillers working on Islay would have had to grind their grain into grist by hand using stones similar to this– because they would not necessarily have had access to larger water mills. This quernstone at Coultorsay probably pre-dates distilling by many hundreds, if not some thousands of years – but who knows?
There is a body of opinion which claims that the development of grain-based agriculture itself was driven by the desire to brew beer – which is of course an essential initial step in distillation. But that is another story for another day….