The Mortar and Pestle

By January 28, 2019 April 17th, 2019 Articles

Apparently derived from the Latin, moratorium- receptacle for grinding, and pestillium– a pounder, has been used since time immemorial.

Obviously developed for grinding and mixing. History records the use of the mortar and pestle as early as about 1550 BC in the Ebers Papyrus, regarded as one of the oldest medical documents, containing some 700 magical formulas and describing the use of an implement for grinding plants and other ingredients,

The Old Testament in Numbers 11: 8 and Proverbs 27:22 also mentions the use of a mortar and pestle.

Over the ages the materials from which mortars were made kept pace with the discovery of newer and harder materials. The ideal material being one which did not react with the material being ground and would not chip or splinter and contaminate the contents.

The accompanying sketches by Fred Reynolds which appeared in the Chemist and Druggist in 1902, reproduced with permission of the current Editor, illustrate the development from Stone to Bone and from Bronze to Wedgewood.

In the S.A. National Pharmacy Museum we have a wide selection of Mortars and Pestles which have been donated over many years by pharmacists and their families.

The accompanying photographs are from our collection.

  1. Brass Mortars of different sizes. Some bear the mark “A.Kernick and Sons” which was a foundry established in 1791 in West Bromwich near Birmingham. The examples in the museum were made in the early. 19th
  2. A collection of Wedgewood Mortars.
  3. Glass Mortars .
  4. Alabaster Mortar with a wooden Pestle. Used to crush olives to obtain the first fresh pressing of Olive Oil.

by Ray Pogir.