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These Ethiopian villagers know where their flour comes from; do you?
Laurie details these findings (Men at work: Grinding stone production by the experts and others in northern Ethiopia) in the Journal of Lithic Studies. She shares how villagers described grinding stones as “necessary for life” because flour represents the greatest contribution to local diets.
Through the ethnoarchaeology interviews and observations, Laurie documents the laborious and complicated process in manufacturing grinding stones. It requires complex design decisions on how to break and shape the boulders into usable tools. Women who will use these tools also advise on individual design preferences. Manufacturing requires 14 hours of heavy labour in addition to special skills and knowledge of how stone reacts to different hammer blows and chisel work. Documenting the manufacturing processes and associated socio-economic interrelationships was urgent because few experts remain in this region as more people turn to accessing modern mechanical mills for grinding.
In late 2020, the Tigrai region began experiencing numerous power outages and broken supply chains due to political unrest. Subsequently, families are forced to return to grinding their own flour which further underscores the importance of documenting this dying trade.
So, let's pause, enjoy that bit of bread and celebrate these unsung heroes whose artisanal techniques have been feeding generations both past and present.
Laurie is part of Professor Catherine D’Andrea’s Research Team who focus on ethnoarchaeology, cereal domestication, traditional agricultural knowledge, early complex societies and African archaeology.