In the Palestine that Gustaf Dalman saw, the rotating hand mill was the main tool used to grind grain. A relatively shallow millstone made from basalt sat on a base and was turned in a circular motion. The grain was poured through a small hole in the upper millstone and worked its way to the side as it was ground to flour, where it was gathered in a clay basin – or a blanket for portable mills.
Grinding grain was women’s work in Palestine. Often a woman would grind alone, sometimes another woman or girl would help her. They then sat opposite each other, one woman replenishing the grain, and both helping to turn the millstone.
This picture shows such a mill with a storage trunk in the background.
There only is evidence of such mills in the area from the 2nd century CE (AD). During Roman times — the time of Christ — rotating mills with more vertically orientated millstones were used.
During the time of Ancient Israel—until the Hellenistic Age—grinding stones were used. These were not circular mills, but rather an elongated basalt stone that was moved back and forth on a base—often called a quern. This quern was normally slightly elevated from the floor so that the woman grinding grain could kneel behind it and work with the quern sloping away from her. We’ve uncovered such grinding stones at excavations on Tell Halif, though they were no longer in the original position. The picture shows a grinding stone on a quern after cleaning. The more substantial — though cracked — quern was photographed at Tel Eitun.