Tag Archives: mills

Where on Google Earth, reverse home edition

I don’t know if you’ve run across the game Where on Google Earth. This is a thing that occasionally crosses the archæological blogs that I read, and the way it works is that the previous winner posts an image captured from Google Earth of an archæological site, whose identity readers are then invited to guess. As with I Spy, the person who guesses correctly gets to set the next challenge. Having met it, I was put sharply in mind of it a while back when still working through the charters in volume 4 of the Catalunya Carolíngia.1 As readers of such things will be aware, when geographical boundaries are used in a charter to describe and locate the land being transferred – that is, mountains, rivers and so on, things that don’t move or perish unlike say, the ‘homesteads of Oliba’ – sometimes those bounds are so specific that it is tempting to try and place them on a map, and the existence of Google Maps makes it exceedingly easy to give into this temptation.2 This can sometimes lead to moments of great serendipity: in one particular case, when searching for a farm in Avinyó, I had narrowed it down to this.3

And then I flipped from map to satellite view, as you too can do above, and behold! There was a flipping farm dead centre of the screen. This was less likely than it seems now, as at the time I did this the buildings were not marked on the map view. Of course it’s unlikely to be the same site, but it was fun to have happen all the same, and I would rather like to ask the owner of that farm about pottery fragments that may turn up in their fields… However, let me try another one for you, this being that mill I mentioned a little while back that had another mill on its boundary.4 That may not help us much, but since the mill was on an island in the middle of the Riu Cardener, one might be forgiven for having a hope. Actually, it’s not a good hope, because rivers tend to be very hard to track in satellite view here because of tree cover and also tend to be marked only as lines in map view. But an island big enough to put a mill on, how many can there be? Admittedly, if for example it was the Riu Ter I was dealing with here, things like the subsequent flooding of one of its valleys for use as a reservoir would mean that the photos would not tell us much about the ancient geography, but that could never happen twice…

Ah. Bother. I’m sure it’s beautiful, of course. But actually, this is a long long way north of where our case must have been, in the old county of Manresa. And, lo, follow the Cardener down far enough and we get to the city of Manresa itself, and there, there are islands in the river. Even here, though, there are weirs and it’s hard to tell how big anything was before humans started really intervening here. There were probably islands in different places and the entire course of the river must have been badly bent by all the canalisation around the city. The place we’re looking for must be here somewhere, between Cardona and the confluence with the Riu Llobregat, but that’s a long trek (and as it now lies, definitely in the ‘extreme’ range to navigate given the weirs and rapids). I’m going to pick this one, but there’s no way to know for sure unless someone were to want to get across there next time they’re in Manresa and kick the grass up a bit… I might have a go myself. Still: till then, there’s a kind of Schrödinger’s Mill here, and until the waveform is collapsed, we can imagine…

Not the most rigorous piece of research-based blogging I’ve ever done, this, but hopefully a bit of fun.


1. As usual, this is Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), documents from the which I reference as CC4 plus their number in what follows.

2. It might well be more academically rigorous to check them out in the series of excellent historical atlases by Jordi Bolòs i Masclans and Victor Hurtado, under the series title Atles dels comtats de Catalunya carolíngia, of course. In fact it definitely is, but you can’t zoom in on buildings from the sky that way or, occasionally, get street view…

3. This being CC4 1446, where the searcher is guided by the fact that the Riu d’Oló bounded two sides and a ridge ran along the third; the estate had several solaria, dovecotes and mills so must have stretched out a bit between those boundaries. This seems like the only plausible spot, being in that bend of the river.

4. CC4 1411.

On the economics of tenth-century mills

Every now and then I write a post for this blog that is probably really a paper. Occasionally this is deliberate, because I’m having trouble working something out and I try and explain it to an imagined audience. All of those posts are still in the queue, which is now so long that the paper may be finished before they are… but this one, like one or two others, I started writing merely to get something off my chest that I hoped might be interesting and then by the end it’s nearly three thousand words and has enough footnotes for a centipede. Were it not that a lot of these posts start as me trying to show someone wrong about something, it’d be a great way to carry out scholarship. But maybe that doesn’t stop it being a viable paper, and it’s been some time since I wrote about my actual research area, so, hey: let’s ask a Marxist question about mills in early medieval Catalonia! That question is, of course: who controls the means of production? There is an accepted answer about this and I’m not sure it’s quite right. Interest piqued? The rest is behind the cut below. If not, here is that really cool mill location I wrote about before once more, why not look at that instead?

Building set into a riverine waterfall at Marfà, Castellcir

Building set into a riverine waterfall at Marfà, Castellcir

Continue reading

The awesomeness of implied landscape

A brief check down the front page of this blog just now revealed to me that I apparently haven’t written about my actual study area for really quite some time. This must be changed. After all, it was not so very long ago that I sat down and had a proper go at reading a few hundred more charters, out of which I was claiming a few posts ago to have loads of new ideas, surely some of them can go here? Indeed they can. Working through charters can be pretty dull, but the Catalan ones, formulaic though they can be, are often quite descriptive about the landscape they’re set in. They do this in quite brief terms, however, because of course the landscape in question was familiar to the people involved and they didn’t need to write poetry about it. This means that some quite surprising things can almost slip past one, such as a charter from the Vic cathedral archive dealing with land in Pujolric in Balenyà in 963, which mentions that on one of the boundaries of the land concerned was, “ibso molino subterraneo”, or, in properly emphasised translation:1

‘the underground mill’

Now, OK, that might just sound kooky and perhaps slightly like the headquarters of a feudal supervillain, but consider. This is not a windmill: those hadn’t even come back to la Mancha yet as far as we know, and in any case, I don’t see how a windmill could be underground in any very convincing way.2 Yes, the actual milling parts could be, but why would you? The upper works would still need to be above ground so you’d just be making loading difficulties for yourself by not having the stones there too. It must have been a watermill, but water, of course, flows downhill, so the outflow of this water must also have been underground. Now, I can only see one easy way for that to happen, which is that the mill was stuck into a hillside above a river gorge and they’d dug it into the ground so as to use gravity to increase the water power. And when I figured that out I almost immediately wanted to set out on a trek down the Riu Congost looking for obvious holes in the cliffside around Balenyà…

You see, it’s one-off things like this that make it worth slogging through the next twenty documents where nothing exciting is listed. Except, that this one turns out not to be a one-off. Another, rather obscure, document from 989 relating to mills on the Riera de Marfà, also mentions a boundary on “ipso molino sutiran”, which, more Romance though it may be, is surely the same thing.3 (There are quite a lot of mills in this landscape: one was being sold and two more were on the boundaries, one being this one and another a “molino mediano”, the mill in the middle?)

View of the Riera de Marfà, Castellcir, Barcelona

A simple use of that FWSE for Marfà brought this up, which could hardly be bettered. Do you want to bet that habitation has never been a mill?

At that point you have to start wondering how many of these things there were and whether this is a more widely-known phenomenon than I’d expected. And, of course, it turns out it is.

View of the Molí del Blanquer, Calders

View of the Molí del Blanquer, Calders

What happened was, I mentioned this on Skype to an archaeologist friend of mine. They, despite knowing neither Spanish nor Catalonia, are nonetheless sufficiently cleverer than me with Google Maps that within five minutes they’d come up with this place in Calders, same county but four centuries later. Nonetheless, here you see how it works: the big bank to the right of the building is actually the top of the cliffside, which falls dramatically down to the Riu Calders on the other side. But it’s uphill to get there, so the workings must, necessarily, be underground, and indeed they still are.

Erstwhile workings of the Molí del Blanquer, Calders

Erstwhile workings of the Molí del Blanquer

This is not quite how I’d imagined it, but that’s just my imagination being weak, or rather, heading direct for the scenery and wishing I was out there rather than soberly considering how it should have worked. Nonetheless: sometimes the implications of a charter formula can only be measured in fantastic.


1. I first met this charter as Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 357, but had somehow managed to forget about this aspect till reading it again as Ordeig (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 924. Is it worth mentioning that Pujolric’s name comes from pugio regio, ‘the royal rock’? I’m not sure how this helps…

2. Admittedly, this might be quite wrong because my authority on this is still Lynn White Jr., Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford 1962, repr. 1963), pp. 80-89, and since I would no longer cite this as any kind of authority on ploughs, for example, though plenty of people do, I guess things may have changed here also, but he at least reckoned windmills as an import from the Far East that got west in the late twelfth century.

3. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1548, which is obscure because of its condition clause stating that the recipient gets the mill and “ipsos dies nove cum ipsas noctes”, which looks like a timeshare but is costing him 26 solidi (i. e. enough for, say, three or four reasonably-sized farm or seven or eight head of cattle) and the interval within which those nine days are placed isn’t clear. Nine days a year isn’t much for that money. Nine days a month? I can’t help but wonder if is this actually time to vacate? This would, however, not be the first milling timeshare on record in this area: see Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 800-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 92-93.