H Milopetra tis Milou. Apo tin exorixi stin emporiki a diakinisi (La meule de Milos, de l'extraction jusqu'au commerce). Athènes, 2002, 152 p.
Translation of the title : The mill of Milos : from extraction to commerce
The Cycladic island of Milos (or Melos or Milo) has a very lengthy and interesting mineralogical history beginning in Prehistory and lasting until very recent times. It started in the Neolithic with the extraction of obsidian that transformed the island into one of the commercial centres of the Aegean Sea. Today, the mineral industry is still one of the principal economic activities.
The millstones of Milos were once highly reputed and marketed in the Aegean Sea as well as in throughout the Mediterranean basin. The millstones were so well known that certain scholars associated the name Milos with their extraction. The material is volcanic with very large pores (0.5 - 1 cm), especially suitable for milling barley. The stones were known, by the way, as 'barley millstones.'
There were several types of stones. The 'crassato' (wine) was expensive and hard, ideal to grind maize. The 'tyflo' (blind) was very hard and was dressed with radial grooves like French millstones. Finally there was the 'routhounato' (with nostrils), the most common type for grinding barley.
The majority millstone exploitations are found at a place name Rema, a beach on the eastern site of the Island. The quarry produced millstones from the Middle Ages to the middle of the 20th century. Work was intensive and the quarries employed an important sector of the population. This might explain why the capital of the island in the Byzantine times was transferred from Klima to Zephyria, near the quarry site. There were times when whole populations immigrated to work in the quarry of Rema. According to many surviving names and surnames, many of these migrant workers came from the Taskonia region (Arcady mountains, Peloponnesian Is.). In the same manner, during the Turkish occupation, extraction took place at Kimolos, a neighboring island, at the sites of Mprovarma (the observatory) and Stis Chiromili (to the querns), and on the small island of Polyaigos. These stones were nevertheless inferior to those of Milos and were thus marketed at a lower price, in spite of the fact that they were easier to extract and easier to load onto boats.
The quarry of Rema is located beside the sea and submitted to impetuous winds. As a result it was very difficult for vessels to anchor. When they did they only remained for short periods. The workers were thus obliged to quickly load the boats. They wore a thick fabric over their shoulders to avoid injury. It was a hard and dangerous job but brought them great profit. Measures of security in the quarries were only taken toward the end of the exploitation in the 20th century. These consisted of installing shoring pillars to reinforce the tunnel and a ventilation system. A small railroad system with mine wagons was also outfitted to transport the stone.
There were four categories of workers and craftsmen : 1) 'ministers' or "pullers" that removed the rough outs from the tunnel, and 2) 'masons' or "cutters" that fashioned them into millstones. The other categories correspond to 3), unqualified workers, and 4), the guard. Initially, millstones were fashioned on the premises. The larger stone segments (called 'cut' or 'hewn') were assembled by groups of 5 or 6 into a large millstone. The smaller and cheaper fragments were called 'Karikou'. The segmented stones were designated 'Poleos' (from the city of Constantinople) because they were marketed in that city. Finally the 'mastorou' (from the word mason) were sold at a very low price. Toward the beginning of the 1950s a type '2A' appeared, a type inspired by the best and last stonemason of the quarry. Composed of 2 or 3 segments. It was larger and brought a higher price. When stones were apt to be fashioned into hand querns, they were used as gifts. Still today, certain homes of Milos use these smaller millstones.
The worker's salaries were reasonable in general and far superior - nearly double - to that of the common islander. For this reason the residents of the island preferred to work in the quarry in spite of the poor sanitary and dangerous conditions. Accidents were frequent. Oral tradition has it that one incident provoked the death of 40 workers from Tsakonia (Peloponnese). They worked, in general, five days a week and resided on the premises since the village was too far, and their only means of transport was by foot. When they returned to their homes, they worked together in their fields. The rhythm of work was advanced for its time - 5 working days instead of 6 - and a sense of mutual solidarity developed. A working association began on the island in the 1930s.
Commerce of Milos millstones attained a considerable scale. They were exported all over Greece, as well as to foreign lands such as Constantinople, Egypt, Italy (Naples and Trieste), and Serbia. In 1851, a sample of the Milos millstone was presented in the international exhibition of London. In 1905, 10,477 millstone segments were sold for a total of 29, 000 drachmas. The Milos millstone was, however, not as hard as its French burrstone counterpart, and it required frequent dressing - practically, every 30 days. Millers carved very tight radiating furrows - every 5 mm - from 1 to 1.5 mm deep. There are many legends and proverbs citing these millstones, the performance of the mill in general, and the work of the miller. This popular lore illustrates how significant the millstone was in traditional society.
In 1956, millstone exploitation at Rema was suspended definitely. Modern grinding technology rendered it superfluous. Nevertheless, the quarry features bear witness to the former glory. They are a strong symbol of a long and important aspect of the history of Milos.
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