'Stone me, its a bronze age grinder'
From the Forres Gazette, 18 March 2004
JUST a few months after neolithic round houses were found on the site of a housing development on the outskirts of Forres, a man living on the other side of town has unearthed more evidence of the area's historic past.
Retired farmer Alec Mackenzie (76), who lives at Karora, Mill of Grange, with his wife, Margaret, was trying to remove a large tree root from his garden when he struck a big rock.
Little did he know he had uncovered evidence of a Bronze Age settlement and that nine years later it would be on display in a local museum - along with an Iron Age artefact that he found stuck in his garden wall.
He told the "Gazette" how, on moving into the house about nine years ago, he tried to dislodge a large stone which was preventing him from digging up the root in the garden.
"When I finally managed to get it, I found a large flat stone and a smaller rock buried together, " he said.
The large stone was shaped like a saddle with an indention in the middle, and Mr Mackenzie left it in his garden, using it as an ornamental birdbath, where it has been for the past nine years, alongside the other smaller stone.
"The birds absolutely love it, " he said.
"It's just the right shape for them as it fills with water. I thought it was quite an unusual shape and have been meaning to bring it into the museum for ages."
When he finally did bring the object into the Falconer Museum in Forres, museums officer Anne Bennet said she was extremely excited about what she saw.
"I thought straightaway that this was a saddle quern because it was so easily identifiable, " said Miss Bennet.
"It is in good condition and dated somewhere between 500BC and 4500BC, so it could be more than 5,000 years old.
"I phoned the regional archaeologist to come and have a look at it."
Regional archaeologist Ian Shepherd, who is based in Aberdeen, confirmed that the piece was a saddle quern which would have been used for grinding oats into flour, and dated it from the Bronze Age.
"It is not a unique find, but it is very unusual and an important find, " he said.
This is not the first time that Forres has hit the historical headlines. Last August, architects doing a pre-site survey of a housing development at Grantown Road for Springfield Properties unearthed evidence of round houses dating from about 3000BC.
A further examination of the site uncovered two neolithic round houses, primitive dwellings which housed people and animals, and buildings which the archaeologists thought might be Pictish.
At the time, Mr Shepherd said the area would have to be properly researched and documented before being returned to the developers.
Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Mackenzie said although they suspected the stone from their garden was "old" they were unaware it would be historically important, but thought it might have been used for grinding flour as the other stone found with it appeared to fit into it.
"I thought the stone I dug up with it was probably used for grinding down the oats on the top of the quern and milling it into flour, but apparently it was just coincidental that the two stones were dug up together, " said Mr Mackenzie.
Mr Mackenzie has now donated the quern to the Falconer Museum, where it will be on display along with another large flat stone which he dug out of his garden wall two weeks ago.
This time Miss Bennet was able to say that the item was an Iron Age piece and had probably been used as the top half of a rotary quern, which would also have been used for grinding oats into flour. She said this was a more common find, often uncovered throughout Scotland.
"It was stuck in an old rough dyke, " said Mr Mackenzie.
"My wife didn't know what it was either but I think you used to put a stick in a hole in this one and spin it to grind the oats."
"It's just amazing, " said Miss Bennet.
"I don't know what's going to turn up next, and I have contacted the regional archaeologist again."
Posted by Jane
18th March 2004ce