Maids at the grindstone: A comparative study of New Kingdom Egypt grain grinders

  • Elizabeth Lang Yale University
Keywords: milling, Egypt, household, women, identity, ground stone tools



Grinding (or milling) grain was an important activity that took place in nearly every ancient Egyptian home. Grinding was necessary to process emmer or barley grain into flour, and thus was a key step in manufacturing bread, the most important food in ancient Egypt. Grinding in ancient Egypt is well-attested archaeologically, and is the most commonly depicted activity of the grain processing sequence in Egyptian art and texts. Indeed, it was the step that likely took the most time and labour. Despite their significance to daily life in ancient Egypt, grinding implements and activities have often been ignored in archaeological reports and historical studies. However, recent investigations of contemporary ancient cultures as well as modern ethnographic work has brought grind stones and grinding to the fore. This has resulted in new archaeological and ethnographic information, and has refined theories regarding grain grinding and those who performed it. Using this cross-cultural body of evidence and theoretical discussion as a starting point, this presentation will investigate grinding in the domestic, non-elite sphere of New Kingdom Egypt. Using the grinding quern as a focus, this study will explore how association with a grind stone, as well as the act of grinding, created or impacted the miller’s identity and contributed to their role in the household. Archaeological data, 2D and 3D artistic representations of grinding, and literary and non-literary texts discussing grinding will be examined in conversation with evidence from other cultures. This paper will argue that grinding grain was particularly associated with females, and was a low-prestige activity. However, it was an important maintenance activity in the household, and contributed significantly to the labour force and economy of New Kingdom Egypt.

Author Biography

Elizabeth Lang, Yale University
Yale University
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations


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How to Cite
Lang, E. (2016). Maids at the grindstone: A comparative study of New Kingdom Egypt grain grinders. Journal of Lithic Studies, 3(3), 279-289.
Papers Presented at the 1st Meeting of the Association for Ground Stone Tools Research