500-year-old ruins of windmill — owned by medieval lord — uncovered in England

The ruins of a centuries-old windmill were recently unearthed in England, providing a window into the everyday lives of medieval farmers.

The remains — discovered during a highway construction project near Cambridge — date to between 1066 and 1485, making them at least 500 years old, according to a May 9 news release from the Museum of London Archaeology.

While most of the original structure is gone, archaeologists found a series of post holes surrounded by a large, circular moat, indicating it was a type of post mill, the first kind of windmill to appear in Europe.

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Fragments of millstone uncovered at the site
Fragments of millstone uncovered at the site

Though they relied on irregular winds, windmills provided more power than waterwheels, which were developed first, according to research from the University of Houston. And by the 18th century, they “had reached an astonishing level of sophistication.”

The newfound windmill would have stood inside the “huge” moat and overlooked fields of wheat, oats and barely, museum officials said. Dirt would have been removed from the moat in order to create a high-standing mound for the structure to sit on.

A number of artifacts were located inside the moat, including animal bones, pottery shards, a clay pipe, a horseshoe and dozens of iron nails.

Also unearthed were fragments of millstone — one of which was a “lava” stone, imported from Germany. The stone, which has a rough surface, was sought after for milling in medieval times.

The building, which had a central post capable of being moved to face the wind, would have been owned by a local lord, museum officials said.

At the time, such a windmill would have been a valuable asset, since it would have brought in income via the sale of flour.

The day-to-day operation, though, would have been handled by a “skilled miller,” who navigated various workplace hazards.

“Windmills might look pretty from a distance, but there was a risk of injury from the heavy machinery, collapse during a storm, and fires,” museum officials said.

The miller would have poured grain into a hopper, which would funnel the grain between millstones, slowly crushing it into flour. The gap between the two millstones could be adjusted, allowing the miller to make fine or more coarse flour.

The excavation of the site has concluded, but the uncovered artifacts are still being processed, museum officials said.

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