Thursday 18 December 2014

Bullaun stones

In my post about eating acorns, I said that people had to invent quite a few things in order to move from eating acorns as occasional snacks to eating acorns as staple starch food. One of these acorn eating inspired inventions was a grinding stone. In archaeology, a grinding slab, or grinding stone is a stone artifact generally used to grind various materials into usable size crumbs, though some grinding slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping. The grinding slabs or grinding stones work through crushing and scraping actions produced by the motion of the movable part, pestle, over the static part, mortar. Any matter which is softer than the material from which the mortar and pestle are made and which is not viscose, will be crushed or scraped into progressively smaller bits. The longer you apply the grinding motion the finer the bits become. Grinding stones  are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.

There are two general types of grinding stones: saddle and cup (conical) grinding stone.

This is an example of a saddle grinding stone from Ojibwe tribe from the Great Lakes area USA:

This is an example of a cup grinding stone from Mariposa county in California USA:

This is an example of a combined saddle and cup grinding stone. The hole in the rock was used like cup grinding stone and the flat surface around it was used like a saddle grinding stone.

On the next picture you can see a large boulder communal grinding stone. These types of grinding stones are also a combination of the saddle and cup grinding stones with multiple conical grinding holes surrounded with flat surfaces used as saddle grinding stones. Here is a great example  of a communal grinding stone from Yosemite national park:
In the book entitled "Indians of the Yosemite Valley and Vicinity Their History, Customs and Traditions" you can see the picture of the same grinding stone with pestles still in the holes. These are rude mortars and pestles for grinding acorn meal. The holes have been worn in the granite by constant use.

In this great documentary film called Kumeyaay story "Life Under the Oaks"Kumeyaay people talk about gathering, processing and eating acorn while using one of the boulder communal acorn grinding sites.

For thousands of years Native American women all over America ground acorns, nuts, and later maize (corn) with grinding stones like the ones shown on the above pictures. Here is a picture of  an old Indian woman preparing acorn meal from "The Algonquian Confederacy of the Quinnipiac Tribal Council" website.

On this picture from the Journal of San Diego History you can see that acorns were also ground using saddle grinding stones.

So you can see that Native americans used both cup (conical) and flat saddle grinding stones for grinding acorns. 

As I said in my post about eating acorns I believe that the invention of the grinding stones was a byproduct of the invention of the acorn breaking and leaching process. The people trying to quickly leach acorns for food needed to first shell the acorns. Breaking the acorn shell and separating the acorn from the shell is the most difficult part of acorn food preparation. Acorns have an elastic shell that resists slow sideways pressure. The best way to break the acorns shell is to put the flat end (the side that used to have the cap) on a firm surface and hit the pointy end with a stone. This process of breaking the acorn shells often resulted in broken and crushed acorns. I believe that people leaching acorns would have gathered whole and broken acorns and leached them together. And they would very quickly notice that the crushed pieces leached quicker, and that smaller the bits are the quicker the leaching is. So people would start crushing all the acorns before leaching. While crushing the acorns, people noticed that just whacking the acorns with a stone scattered the bits everywhere. But if they gently broke the shell, took the acorn out, placed it on a flat stone, and then pressed the acorn with another stone and moved the pressing stone in a scraping, grinding motion over the acorn, all the bits would stay on the bottom flat stone. I believe that this is how grinding was invented. 

This is the grinding motion used for grinding on a saddle grinding stone:

People who were crushing and grinding acorns soon noticed that if the mortar stone had a cup like hole, then you could crush the acorns and grind them coarsely quickly without bits flying everywhere. People also realised that if the mortar stone had a cup like hole, they could use rotating grinding motion which is also much more efficient.

This is the grinding motion used for grinding on a cup grinding stone:

As I said in my post about the acorns in archaeology, the earliest grinding stones are all associated with the acorn eating cultures. At the moment the earliest dated grinding stones were found in Upper Paleolithic sites in China (found to have been used for grinding plant food including acorns) and in Mesolithic sites in Morocco and Levant (found to have been used for grinding plant food including acorns). But I firmly believe that even earlier ones will be found. Also the latest paleobotanical data actually confirms that the food traces found on the grinding stones found in a lot of early "agricultural" sites were actually of acorns, which meant that the grinding stones in these societies were primarily used for grinding acorns. 

But once the grinding stone was invented as a tool for grinding acorns, people quickly realised that it can be used for grinding other things. Ethnographic evidence and ancient historical texts show that a wide range of foodstuffs and inorganic materials were processed using grinding stones (or as they are also known as, querns or mortars), including nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, meat, bark, pigments, temper and clay. Grinding stones were also widely used in grinding metal ores after mining extraction. The aim was to liberate fine ore particles which could then be separated by washing for example, prior to smelting. Also, finely ground ore requires smaller fire to be heated and melted which makes it easier and faster to transform it into molten metal in primitive smelting pits. The earliest example of use of mortars in metallurgy can be found in Vinča culture where grinding stones were used for grinding cinnabar ore. One of the earliest uses for grinding stones was probably for the manufacturing of ochre and other pigments. You can read how this was done in this great article entitled "How to paint a mammoth".

In my post about the acorns in archaeology, I said that I could not find any mention of acorns in archaeological material from Ireland and Britain. This makes these two places the only two places in Europe where acorns were not found in archaeological sites. Does this mean that people in Ireland and Britain did not eat acorns when everyone else in the northern hemisphere did? I don't think so. We know from ethnographic and historical records that people in both countries ate acorns during hard times even in relatively recent times. This means that there is no chance that acorns were not consumed by people in Ireland and Britain during Mesolithic and Neolithic time.

As I said in my post about how oaks repopulated Europe, oaks reached Eastern Britain by 7500 BC. Oaks reached Ireland very soon afterwards. I believe that oaks were brough into both Britain and Ireland by hunter gatherer groups exploring the western coast of Europe in dugout canoes and I gave detailed explanation why I believe that to be the case in my post "how did oaks repopulated Europe".

We know from the archaeological records that the first humans arrived around 9,000 years ago (7,000 BC). This dating is based on the material recovered from the Mount Sandel Mesolithic site which is the earliest Mesolithic settlement found in Ireland. Storage pits found at the site are of the same basketed dug in storage pits type found in other acorn eating cultures in Evroasia at that time and later. So there is a strong possibility that the Mount Sandel people also ate acorns. At the time when Mount Sandel people lived in Ireland, the island was predominantly covered in a blanket of woodland. Oak and Elm were well established, with Scots Pine growing on the lower slopes of some uplands. There were two major woodland types namely, mature deciduous Oak Woods in the lowlands and valleys with an abundance of ferns, mosses and liverworts, and the Pine Forests on poorer soils with ling heather, grasses and bracken occurring in the ground layer. Some birch woodlands would have also existed on poorer soils. Other species such as Rowan would have flourished in natural openings in the forest canopy, along with whitebeam, holly, ivy and honeysuckle. These forests were home to animals, some of which are extinct in Ireland today, such as brown bear, wolf and boar, while others, such as fox, pine marten and stoat, still occur. The forests covered most of Ireland apart from exposed coastal areas, lake edges and the more exposed mountain tops. Alder and ash were still uncommon in Ireland 8,500 years ago but they expanded to become common around 500 years and 2,000 years later respectively. 

These early inhabitants were Mesolithic hunters, fishers and gatherers. And as we see in all the other major Mesolithic cultures, settled hunter gatherers living in well established mixed oak forests all ate acorns and other nuts as their staple starch food. Why would the Irish Mesolithic hunter gatherers be an exception? Why would they ignore the most abundant and the easiest to get food source which was everywhere around them? Well I don't think they did. And here is why:

Have a look at these three pictures:

No these are not acorn grinding stones from Native American acorn eating cultures archaeological sites. These are bullaun stones found in Ireland. This is what official archaeology has to say about bullaun stones:

A bullaun stone (Irish: bullán) is the term used for the depression in a stone which is often water filled. Natural rounded boulders or pebbles may sit in the bullaun. The size of the bullaun is highly variable and these hemispherical cups hollowed out of a rock may come as singles or multiples with the same rock.
Local folklore often attaches religious or magical significance to bullaun stones, such as the belief that the rainwater collecting in a stone's hollow has healing properties. 

Ritual use of some bullaun stones continued well into the Christian period and many are found in association with early churches, such as the 'Deer' Stone at Glendalough, County Wicklow. The example at St Brigit's Stone County Cavan still has its 'cure' or 'curse' stones. These would be used by turning them whilst praying for or cursing somebody. In May 2012 the first cursing stone to be found in Scotland was discovered on Canna. It has been dated to circa 800. The stones were latterly known as 'Butterlumps'.

St. Aid or Áed mac Bricc was Bishop of Killare in 6th-century. At Saint Aid's birth his head had hit a stone, leaving a hole in which collected rainwater that cured all ailments, thus identifying it with the Irish tradition of Bullaun stones.

Possibly enlarged from already-existing solution-pits caused by rain, bullauns are, of course, reminiscent of the cup-marked stones which occur all over Atlantic Europe, and their significance (if not their precise use) must date from Neolithic times.

Now am i the only one who sees similarity between the acorn grinding stones from North America and bullaun stones? There are thousands of bullaun stones scattered throughout Ireland. If any of them was found in North America, they would have been immediately classified as acorn grinding stones. How is it possible that "we still don't the precise original use of these stones"? As I said already Ireland was once covered with mighty oak forests and people who lived in these oak forests must have eaten acorns like all the other oak forest dwellers did. And if we find the same type of hollowed stones in Ireland that we find in North America, and if in North America these stones were used for grinding acorns, then these Irish stones must have been used for the same purpose. 

I believe that bullaun stones were not classified as acorn grinding stones primarily because until very recently we did not realise how ubiquitous consumption of acorns was in the northern hemisphere. Maybe its time to re-evaluate the bullaun stones and reclassify them as acorn grinding stones. I also believe that the earliest examples of bullaun stones probably date to Mesolithic and Neolithic time and that they predate the arrival of agriculture to Ireland..

As you could see from the pictures of grinding stones from North America, people used both cup, conical and saddle grinding stones originally for grinding acorns and then later for grinding grains. Apart from bullaun (conical) grinding stones, in Ireland we also find saddle grinding stones. 

This is a saddle grinding stone from the bronze age ~1500-500BC from Ovidstown, County Kildare.

This is a saddle grinding stone from the bronze age from Grange county Meath.

Saddle querns were used into the 20th century in Ireland, as you can see on this picture kept in the Ulster Folk and Transport museum. Compare this picture with the picture of the old Native American woman grinding acorns using saddle grinding stone. I love this woman's face. She looks more Native American than the actual Native American woman on the above picture.

This is a list of all the Irish bullaun stones as recorded in the National monument service database. As you can see they are found all over Ireland in huge numbers.

Ireland is not the only place in Europe where we find bullaun stones. As far as I know they are also found in Cornwall, France, on the Swedish island of Gotland, Lithuania, Germany, Belorussia...I was recently made aware of the existence of many bullaun type grinding slabs in the Levant of which the earliest were dated to 11,000 BC. I am preparing an article about these grinding stones and will publish it as soon as it's finished. 

These are grinding stones found in so called "court houses" in Cornwall.

These are grinding stones from Cornwall dated to late Neolithic early Bronze Age.

This is one of many old hollowed stones from the Baltic. They are called bowl stones and are, like in Ireland and in Slavic countries, regarded as sacred. The place where the stone is located is used as a place of worship. The diameter of this stone is about 60 cm and a depth - about 15 cm. In the past people considered the accumulated water as sacred and thought that it had healing properties. In the past the stone used to be called the stone of god.

You can see many more of these stones if you run this search. Here are some of them. This one is called "Lielais Daviņu Akmens" which means great stone of giving, offering, great altar. It seems that the stone was linked to harvest rituals.

This stone stands on a hill, where an old oak forest grew until the seventeenth century. The hill was a site of a pagan temple. 

For information about these stones in English look at the pages 27 - 33 of the book "Studies into the Balts’ Sacred Places".

I was just made aware of an article about an interesting half-made bowl-stone from Baltic region. On its top part there's a circular groove of a similar size as the usual bowls on other stones, as if someone had intended to gouge out a bowl there too but stopped half way through the process of gouging the hole. 

We can deduce though that this is how these bowl stones were actually made from their name in Lithuanian. Lithuanian word for bowl is dubuo, dubeni akameni...These words come from Slavic root dub meaning wood but also to gouge. This second meaning comes from the time when utensils were made by gouging bowl like holes in pieces of wood and later stone. In Southern Slavic languages Dubiti means to gouge and Dubeni, Dubeno means gouged, with a gouged hole, bowl in it...Dubeni kameni in South Slavic languages means gouged stones, bowl stones...

This is an example of the "pierres à cupules" or cupped stone from france. This is a communal boulder grinding stone.

This is a bullaun stone from Leistruper forest Westphalia Germany (taken by Oliver Reichelt).

These are just two of many bullaun stones from Belorussia. In Belorussia these stones are also regarded as sacred and the water accumulated in them is considered to have healing properties. In Belorussian these hollowed stones are called "valun" which in Slavic languages means both a boulder and a grinding stone. I believe that this name holds the key for understanding the original purpose of these stones and proves how ancient they truly are. But I will talk about this in one of my next posts....

Bullaun stone , situated on the location of a destroyed ancient chapel.
Izhorian Plateau, St. Petersburg region, NW Russia.

This is duben kamen, well, called zdenac from Dinara mountain region in Croatia:

This is a picture of the central hole with the reflection of the mountain top:

Bullaun stones Serbia. Unfortunately I don't know exact location...I also have information about similar stones in Makedonia.

If anyone has any examples of similar stones from Europe please let me know and send me a link to the pictures so that I can update the post to keep it relevant. 

In the end there is something I would like to draw your attention to. 

This is a prehistoric bullaun stone mortar and pestle:

And here is how it must have been used to grind Acorns:

And here is a bullaun stone mortar and pestle I have in my kitchen:

I use it to grind plant food, in the same way our Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic and Neolithic ancestors did. People are extremely conservative when it comes to tools and will use something that works until they find something that does it better. As it seems, when it comes to grinding plant food, mortars and pestles are still the best tool for the job all these thousands of years later.

I hope you had fun reading this post. If you did, please plus it. It would mean a lot to me. Thank you and stay happy.


  1. Interesting article. You posed the question why acorns haven't been found in early European cultures. This is because the European oak species are different from the US oak species. The level of tannins in the acorns are much, much higher than the US acorns. This means that to remove the tannins you have to put the acorns through a very long process before they are anyway near edible. It just wasn't worth it. We left acorns for the pigs which would be left to forage in the woods over winter then we ate the pigs. Much easier. Also, the cup marks found in neolithic burial sites such as Cornish Quoits and some Scottish stones are thought to be "energy line re-directors" rather than quern stones.

    1. Sarah, thank you for your comment. Actually I asked why acorns weren't found in Ireland and Britain. They were found in every other part of Europe. We also know from ethnographic data that acorns were eaten as staple food in many parts of Europe until the first half of the 20th century. There is also difference between cup and ring marks and the bullaun stones. They are related but not the same...

    2. Your interesting essay depends mostly on material evidence. But it would be worth exploring literature too, from the medieval period. Here's one wee offering to whet your appetite. It's a poem in ninth-century Gaelic in which a hermit is describing his lifestyle to a king. He lives in a hut in the wood. One of the verses, in which he is describing his diet:
      Cuach meda colláin cunnla
      co ndáil daith;
      durcháin donna, dristin monga
      mérthain maith.

      Which means:]A cup of excellent hazel mead, swiftly served.
      Brown acorns, manes of bramble with good blackberries

      Clearly in the ninth century Ireland eating acorns was seen as a reasonable thing to do. The poem can be found in G. Murphy 'Early Irish Lyrics', p. 14

    3. Thank you very very much Gilbert for this.

    4. Türkiyede de bulunan bu kaya oymaların, çoklu olanları; bir çeşit havuz yapma tekniği ve madencilik amaçlı yapıldığını eklemeliyim.


    Just in case you haven't seen this similar example from Scotland. At the time this story came out I had just watched a documentary on primates using tools which had something very similar being used as a anvil for monkeys breaking nuts so I was intrigued that this had been identified as art rather than something practical. Coming across your page reminded me of the story and perhaps suggests that this may have had a similar use.

    I'm interested that acorn shells are not found in British or Irish sites. Presumably this isn't just an artefact of when the archaeology was done or how archaeobotanical remains were identified and reported? Intriguing.

    1. Catherine, thank you for your comment. This is why I think the remains of acorns were not found in England and Ireland.

      Firstly, bullauns were probably used as acorn grinders before 3rd millennium bc. Since then they were exposed to the weather which probably wiped out any trace of acorns that was left behind.

      Secondly, and more importantly (as I wrote in my post about acorns in archaeology), the remains of acorns in the most important archaeological sites where acorns were found, were only found using flotation technique and microscope and even electronic microscope because ordinary microscope was too weak to detect acorn particles:

      Acorns are usually eaten roasted, and during roasting the thin-walled shells are carbonised and destroyed, which makes the macro particle acorn detection in the archaeological remains very difficult. On dry sites wind would then disperse the acorn ash and make it even more difficult to detect. On wet sites we have another problem and that is that like for most other starch rich seeds, the preservation of acorns in waterlogged conditions is not very good. Acorns only preserve well once charred because the elemental carbon of charcoal is not attacked by chemical or biological processes in sediments. But as I said already, when they are fragmented during or after charring, it can be hard to identify them as the bits get scattered. In Eastern North America where archaeobotanical finds of acorns are abundant, the majority of finds consist of fragments of acorn shell of 2mm or less. This might indicate that in Europe most of the evidence of acorn use may have been overlooked or was not preserved. Because of the absence of macro remains we have to rely on micro remains and they are not easy to detect. To detect micro remains of food plants you need to use flotation technique and microscope analysis. At the submerged Mesolithic site of Tybrind Vig in Denmark which is known for its excellent preservation conditions, acorn use has only been attested by the identification of small fragments of acorn using a scanning electron microscope. The same happened at the sites of Cova Fosca and Roc de Migdia in Spain, which had no previous evidence of acorns, and where the presence of acorn parenchyma was attested only by using a scanning electron microscope. However both these techniques are expensive and require well equipped archaeobotanical laboratories. Because of this there are significant national and regional differences in the intensity of archaeobotanical research, resulting in acorn traces being missed among the archaeological material and in an underestimation of the use of acorns as a source of human nutrition in the past.

      This is the main reason why hazelnuts are usually the most frequently found collected plants on archaeological sites. Hazelnut are eaten raw, where the husk is broken and discarded so we have a chance to find big fragments close together. Also hazelnut husks are far more durable than acorn ones. Another reason why acorns are not detected in larger quantities on archaeological sites is because a lot of the acorn processing is usually undertaken completely or partially off site in the actual oak groves, on river edges, collective grinding stone.... which all adds to the difficulty of detecting acorns among the food remains.

  3. I'm learning to spin with a support spindle and one of those stones would be quite useful for that too.

    1. Hi Jane, bullauns are too big and too deep for this. You wouldn't want one of those boulders to be lying on your laps...:)

  4. I think Anonymous has an interesting line of thought. Some of the "pierres à cupule" in France have holes which are too small to be used for grinding as in a pestle and morter. Some stones have cups which are only about 5 to 10cm. An alternative hypothesis to explai thses small cup marks is that these are the result of a frequent use of the stone as a fire-lighting platform. Repeated use of a bow and spindle to generate heat by friction and so light a fire would result in a hole of exactly the size we observe. When it becomes too big to provide sufficient friction, a new spot on the stone is started. Look at the example shown here: (St Hilare du Touvet near Grenoble)

    1. Tim you are absolutely right that not all stones with cup like depressions are grinding stones. Cup and ring mark stones are such stones. You can see from the above pictures that grinding stones have large well spaced holes as grinding requires both large holes and large flat surfaces. I have a theory that cup and ring marks are related to religious ceremonies of solar cycle. Most of them look like a ra sign, which represents the solar cycle. But this is far from definite. As for fire making, you never use stone to generate heat for fire making. If you use fire drill, you generate fire by creating friction between the rotating fire stick and the static fire board. It is the fire board that catches fire. So you need the static part of the fire drill to be made of dry wood. The stones like the one on your picture are a mystery. I am still to come up with a practical action that would result in their creation. Possibly some religious practice again, but I am not sure....

    2. Yes, of course, fire starting would not be effective on a stone. So another alternative hypothesis is that the holes are formed by deliberate grinding of the stone to produce powders for medicinal or other uses. If the stones are granites, then grinding the surface weathered layers would produce kaolin (china clay), which is still used today as an inert filler, in porcelain and pigments and also medicinally: internally to treat diarrhea, and externally as an emollient and to dry wounds and sores. I have read that some European cup-marked stones are reported to be erratic (not local stone) granite imported by glacial action, so more research into the actual rock types is needed to further this hypothesis.

    3. These smaller cups could have been used for herbs and spices, which are ground in far smaller quantities than flours. My *large* mortar is 8.5cm; the smallest is 4cm.

  5. in Lithuania we have a lot of that type of stones

    1. Thank you for this information. I expected this to be the case considering that the stones are found both in Ireland and in Belorussia. Could you please send me links to any articles that talk about these stones in Lithuania or links to pictures of these stones?

    2. Thank you very much for your links. I have added more information about the Baltic Bawl stones to my post.

    3. You can find the most images of Lithuanian Bowl (not "bawl", there's a typo in your blog post) Stones via this search: "akmuo" + "dubeniu"

      But there's a big distinction between a stone with only one depression and those with many: in bowl stones there's always just one single depression which is usually large - like a bowl; but in cup-stones the holes are numerous and tiny, hardly suitable for grinding more than one acorn at a time. The term for cup-stones is "akmuo su duobutėmis". From an article about one such cup-stone from Tytuvėnai regional park:
      "Stones with little holes are usually found by the water: along the riverbanks and valeys, their watersheds, in swampy areas. Those are usually coarse red granite boulders. There are some attempts to explain the alignment of holes as a star map.
      In mythology these stones bear most resemblance to stones with footprints: it is said [in folklore] that the marks were left by the devils who were dancing or have come to visit the human realm from the underworld. Sometimes healing properties are attributed to those stones. Early Iron-age artifacts are found next to many cup-stones."

      The cup stones are also present in Finland where they're called "Kuppikivi":

      Also, I have to mention that there's no data about human consumption of acorns (other than using it for making coffee-like drink after repeatedly soaking them in milk - a very expensive preparation and the role of acorns there is just for the flavor, not nourishment) in Baltic folklore - or at least I'm not aware of any. The acorns were traditionally used only for fattening the pigs.

    4. The thing is, nobody knows how the Baltic bowl-stones were made. There aren't any pestle-like stones which could suggested their role as a mortar next to them - maybe the top stones just haven't survived to our days or... maybe the bowl-stones were not produced by a long gradual grinding with a top stone at all. I've just come upon an article about an interesting half-made bowl-stone - on its top part there's a circular groove of a similar size as the usual bowls on other stones, as if someone had intended to carve out a bowl there too but stopped half way in the process, the photos are in the link: The dating of the stone is I - II century AD, it was lying next to the fields of Early Farming when it was discovered. The soil next to it showed signs of fire.

    5. Užumiškiai you are right that we have no proof that any of the bowl stones in the Baltic were mortars. The top stones are small movable objects and could have been moved. But also at least some of the stones could have been made as an imitation of the original grinding slabs. I think this is a good example how something acquires a new meaning and purpose over time as the original meaning and purpose is forgotten. I think that people attributed magical and religious meanings to these stones in later times and started using them as altars. And they probably even made additional bowl stones for that purpose. Or maybe this is how you would have made this type of grinding stones in the first place...Because we can't date stones it is difficult to say....

    6. We can deduce though that this is how these bowl stones were actually made from their name in Lithuanian. Lithuanian word for bowl is dubuo, dubeni...These words come from Slavic root dub meaning wood but also to gouge. This second meaning comes from the time when utensils were made by gouging bowl like holes in pieces of wood and later stone. In Southern Slavic languages Dubiti means to gouge and Dubeni, Dubeno means gouged, with a gouged hole, bowl in it...

    7. The cup mark stones (with many tiny holes) are not grinding stones. I have no idea what they were used for originally. The grinding stones have large holes at least 10-15 centimeters in diameter and approximately the same depth. Acorns were consumed in the Balkans until the mid 20th Century. The Irish and Baltic grinding stones probably date to at least Iron age and most probably bronze age.

    8. Serbian Irish: "These words come from Slavic root dub meaning wood but also to gouge."
      I don't know where are you getting this info from but all reliable etymological dictionaries that I've just checked states that Lithuanian word "dubuo" is not derived from any Slavic root, it's not a loanword. It's derived from a Baltic root "dubti" which means "to bend oneself in; to become deeper or hollow" which in turn is derived from proto-Indo-European root dheub- which originally meant "deep, hollow" So, the name of these hollow stones does not necessarily say anything about their conception, they're just a description of their appearance.

    9. Užumiškiai, how do you become deeper or hollow? By gouging, digging which is dubiti....How do you make cup marks, bowl like holes in things? by gouging, by dubiti...To me this is logical, obviously to others it is not....

    10. In Serbian dubina means depth, dubok means deep, dubiti means to gouge....But dub also mean oak and tree, wood. Dubrava is forest...

    11. this is such an old thread and perhaps no one will read this, but I believe that we have to consider that the bowls were not formed for use as utilitarian object but rather as sacred ceremonial objects. The famous discoidal stone mortar palettes found in Alabama USA, in Moundville, offer potential insight into this mystery. Originally believed to be prestige items, distributed via trade, they are now considered to be sacred objects which were held in medicine bundles. These discs were carved out of solid rock, chopped and pecked out, in the most difficult way imaginable. River stones could have been used to create the same shape, in a much faster, simpler way, but it is clear that time and ease of shaping were secondary to the sacred "value" or meaning of the rock itself. Perhaps these mysterious bowls, with no mortars, were shaped in a similar way, painstakingly, with methods that would not makes sense in terms of efficiency, but would be of great spiritual and ancestral significance.

    12. Hi Jessica

      Thank you for your comment.

      There is another type of stone gouging which was done for ceremonial and religious reasons. Cup marks. They were directly linked to death rituals.

      As for the use of bullaun stones as grinding stones, here are two newer posts about them

      in the second article you will see that the grinding stones were indeed used as ceremonial altars in fertility ritual.

  6. Thanks Užumiškiai, nice collection of photos - I make two remarks:
    1. the distribution and numbers of these sites is much larger than I used to think - i.e. there are very many of them, and we find them all over the place. Conclusion, many peoples used these for a very common activity.
    2. There seems to be a clear classification we can make: Large "pestle and mortar" holes - usually single holes in a fixed rock, or in a "mobile" stone. And then the group of 100+ small holes bored across the surface of a large flat rock.
    I guess we are seeing two separate uses here. I suggest the first is for grinding food, and the second is (as I suggested in an earlier post) evidence of boring into the rock to extract powdered rock itself.. Of course the reality was much more complex and variable than that.

  7. These examples are form GALicia and northen PortuGAL (called cazoletas, covinhas...etc):
    you are not the who sees similarity between the acorn grinding stones from North America and bullaun stones. In fact the simillarity is impressive.

  8. Thank you for this info Breo. I don't think these are bullaun stones. These are cupmarked stones. Theste two troups are related but not the same. Bullauns have much larger cups which can be used for grinding.

    1. How large they must be to be called "bullaun"? In GALiza we have a bunch of different kinds and sizes...
      I am confused because in some examples above (Bullaun stones Serbia) I can see the feet of a person, so I can guess its size, and certainly we have them in that size.
      These are identified as „cavidades graníticas con muinhos“= i.e. used for grinding

    2. Then you do have both bullaun stones (mortars) and cupmarked stones in Galicia. :) I would have been surprised if you didn't. They are often found close to eachother. sometimes you even have large mortar holes on the same bedrock with smaller cupmarks.

  9. Does anyone have information about the geological nature of the stones which have cup marks on them?
    the ones I know are all of a type of granite, which supports the theory that they were used to obtain rock powder for medicinal or other purposes. (ground weathered granite can provide talc, still used today)

  10. Hi Tim. I am currently writing an article about cupmarked stones. I can tell you that most cupmarked stones are granite stones. It seems that the original purpose of the cupmarks was collection of clays for medicinal purposes but also a way of recording births and deaths...

  11. Hey Great post. Really a very nice piece of information. Newbies like me get a good idea about this... I'm going to comment now... I think i did it. Thank you..
    Manufacturer of Sandstone

  12. Great post. Thank you. Would be very interested in your article on cupmarked stones. Here's one I wrote not long ago: Also see "Mizen Mission" post re the Castlemehigan stone. Let me know what you think. Finola Finlay

  13. Mate Puljak Blog on He wrote about some holes (Imotska krajina)in his articles.

  14. It took me some years to see similar looking large stones to what I had dug up in my garden many years ago.Whether or not what I unearthed are infact Bullaun stones,I could not say.There are actually three large stones that were unearthed,but only two have the holes/depressions.My initial thoughts when found,were that the stones must have been used for grinding of something.

    1. I don't think these are bullaun stones. These are quite recent. Not sure what they were used for though. Support for some kind of machinery, probably during the early industrial age...

  15. As for the smaller stones, one comment said they would only fit one acorn - is it possible these multiple one-acorn holes were used for standing acorns in to crack them? You said that the easiest way to crack an acorn was to put the flat end on a stone and hit the pointy end with a rock, maybe the many small holes were to crack all the acorns to be ground in the big one. What do you think?

  16. Okay acorns, but, there again, was it really convenient to grind your acorns on the top of a hill - as on Rosewall Hill, Towednack, St Ives, Cornwall? This was where I first came across bullaun stones. I have posted photos of some on the CASPN facebook pages. It has occurred to me that they are womb shaped and that the groove could represent the birth canal. This would indicate their possible role in an earth-fertility ritual.

    1. Grinding stones were located in oak groves or near them...

    2. Also, the fact that these stones were used as grinding stones does not mean they didn't also have religious meaning and were not used for fertility ceremonies. As a matter of fact we know that grain and bread related ceremonies are directly linked with earth and female fertility cults

  17. Further thoughts about the Rosewall hill bullaun near At Ives in Cornwall. You can see photos on the Wikipedia page. Thèse are about 50cm across, womb shaped and with a channel, and on the hill top granite stacks. They do appear to be quite unlike the round forms found elsewhere. When metal was not available for cooking pots and perhaps before fired clay became commonplace maybe stone basins like these could have been used for cooking using fire heated stones? Perhaps a bit of experimental archaeology could be done to test this hypothesis? Maybe to make a medicinal brew or potion? Also, a survey of the hill to check how many of these there are and whether the shapes and sizes are consistent as I suggest. Do these womb shaped bullaun exist elsewhere?

  18. This is an excellent write up, thank you. There's something I'd like your input on that may be of great significance.. is there a way to reach you privately?

    1. There are even many many the very same mortars here in Middle East, particularly Jordan, people say it is a mark for treasures and gold, and some say it marks a tomb nearby. But I believe it is for grinding as written in this post.

  19. I wonder if it's possible that the top grinding stones are missing for the same reason as in Australia, that when the group moved the women would carry them. They would leave the larger slabs in place, in camp, and come back to it year after year.
    They were used to grind Acacia seed and many others to make "Bush Bread" during drought, with the word for "drought" being the same as "grind" in many places.