UNESCO – English

Miller’s craft on UNESCO’s intangible heritage list

On December 5, 2017, there was a party for the Dutch millers. The ancient craft of milling has been recognized by UNESCO as Cultural Intangible Heritage. A recognition for an old craft with a bright future.

“Intangible heritage is ‘living heritage’. It includes social customs, performances, rituals, traditions, expressions, special knowledge or skills that communities and groups (and sometimes even individuals) recognize as a form of cultural heritage. A special feature is that it is transmitted from generation to generation and is important for a common identity.”

Oliemolens.nl - UNESCO

Intangible Heritage

On December 6, 2023, the Olieslaan craft was registered in the Intangible Heritage of the Netherlands inventory. The millers and oil butchers are responsible for transferring the heritage. Volunteer millers play an important role in this, which means that the craft of oil milling has been classified as an intangible heritage. The craft of oil-mining is that intangible heritage.

Olieslaan - Immaterieel Erfgoed Nederland

A piece of history

About 5,000 years ago, humans switched from hunting/gathering to agriculture. The grain was (usually) ground by hardworking women, for example by this Egyptian woman with a grinding stone.

Oliemolens.nl - Egypte - UNESCO

Limestone statuette from a tomb in Egypt of the 5th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, 2465-2323 BC.

Around 6,000 BC, grain grains were rubbed finely between two stones. One stone was hollowed out, another stone was placed on top and the grains were crushed into powder. Derived from this is the hand mill that originated at the beginning of our era. The hand mill (queerne) or rotating mill consisted of two stones, round in shape. Here the grain was crushed between a fixed (lower stone) and a rotating (upper) millstone of approximately 30 cm in diameter. These stones are also called the girder and the bishop. The Roman invention of this dates back to the 1st century BC.

The development of wind and water mills already gave rise to a new profession in Roman times: that of mulder or miller. Mills powered by slaves or animals. When a horse or donkey was used, we started to speak of horse mills. The water mill came into operation in the Roman Empire and the work immediately became much easier.

The Romans contributed to the spread of the Roman Empire, which had its northern border, the Limes, up to the Rhine. It took several years before the water grain mills managed to gain a place next to the mills operated by slaves or animals. The slower spread of water wheel mills must be largely attributed to the fact that hand mills and horse mills could be placed anywhere, while – as far as water mills were concerned – they were always dependent on the presence of running water. In England, fragments of undershot wheels and complete millstones from three water mills from the 3rd century, possibly from the end of the 2nd century, have been discovered near Hadrian’s rampart, built by the Romans.

Water- wind- and horse mills

The development of wind and water mills already gave rise to a new profession in Roman times: that of mulder or miller. Mills powered by slaves or animals. When a horse or donkey was used, we started to speak of horse mills. The water mill came into operation in Rome and the work immediately became a lot easier.

Oliemolens.nl - Water - Wind en Rosmolens - UNESCO

The Greek geographer Strabo (64 BC – 20 AD) first mentions a water mill for grinding grain, which Roman soldiers are said to have seen in the palace of King Mithridates of Pontus (Anatolia, now Turkey). Roman engineers improved the scoop board, the cogwheel and the wheel that had to transmit the power to the axle of the millstone and thus the performance.

Oliemolens.nl - Watermolencomplex Barbegal - UNESCO - Schets
Oliemolens.nl - Watermolencomplex Barbegal - UNESCO - tekening

Barbegal water mill complex

The Roman Empire needed a lot of grain to supply food for legionaries and cities such as Rome and Arlas. Near Arlas in France, archaeologists recently found the Roman ‘industrial’ water mill complex Barbegal, with 16 overshot wheels driving as many grinding stones. The flour mill made larger scale production possible with less human effort.

It was already known that the Romans were masters in what  we now call water management.

In February 2024, an article was published with beautiful illustrations about new discoveries about the complex at Barbegal, which you can read HERE.

Aqueducts with a gradient of 30 – 40 cm per kilometer,  bathhouses and lead pipes for drinking water. It is claimed that the collapse of the Roman Empire was caused by brain softening of the senators, who suffered lead poisoning.

After the water-powered grain mill was introduced, several techniques were developed over the centuries, both in terms of drive and products to be processed. This is how water mills were developed that we now know as tidal mills, ship mills, overshot and undershot mills. Water-powered mills were developed for all kinds of products, such as the saw mill, paper mill and oil mill; the same drive system for completely different operations.

Oliemolens.nl - Logo - Commissie Olieslaan

Home – English

Pressing oil

Oliemolens.nl - De Kilsdonkse Molen - Heeswijk-Dinther

The craft of oil milling has existed for a long time, the first guild for millers and oil butchers was founded before 1629. At the time, oil mills were industrial mills, in almost 1000 oil mills oil butchers processed 100 to 200 tons of seeds annually. During the season people worked day and night in shifts of sometimes up to 16 hours. Seeds from flax (linseed), rapeseed and hemp were ground and pressed, as well as from beech and walnuts, among others.

From 1850 onwards oil was produced in factories in which steam engines drove hydraulic presses. Thus the craft almost completely disappeared. Thanks to individuals, social organizations and governments, both oil mills, knowledge and skills surrounding the craft have been preserved.

Today, the craft is practiced in the same way as in the past by enthusiastic volunteers. Nowadays there is more attention to safety requirements and hearing protection, in the past oil butchers often became ‘noise deaf’.

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The process

The process of oil milling starts with raw materials such as flax seed, linseed or nuts, and with an oil mill that starts moving. If the mill is powered by wind, the miller turns it on; if it is a water mill, the oil mill does this himself. This sets in motion two large round stones in the mill, the edge stones, which roll over a metal platform. Underneath, the oil butcher finely grinds the chosen raw material until flour remains. This flour is heated on a heated plate to about 50 degrees and mixed around. The heat allows the oil to be released from the flour. The warm flour is then poured into bags that are placed between pressing mats and pressure is applied to these full bags using piles and wedges. This causes oil to emerge and can be collected. The residual product remains in the squeezed bags: the ‘cakes’. These are either dried directly into animal feed, or they are pounded and pressed again into flour. Here too, the end product is a cookie.

Oil striking in a water or windmill is a sustainable craft. The oil and residual products are produced in an almost energy-neutral manner and no waste remains.

The oil can be used as a base for soap and paint. Innovative products resulting from the oil include natuleum, an environmentally friendly carboleum, and hardwood oil.

Some mills produce linseed oil in such a way that it is also suitable for human consumption.

Practitioners and stakeholders

Nowadays there is a group of volunteer oil butchers who strike oil in the 19 operational wind and water mills in the Netherlands. The volunteer oil butchers ensure that the craft is preserved and passed on to a new generation. The public is very welcome when oil is being struck. She can take a tour where a volunteer explains the oil-mining process.

Each oil mill has its own internal training, which is fairly easy to follow. The volunteer oil butchers appreciate the craft, among other things, because it takes place in a monument – a historic mill in motion – and because you go from raw material to product in one afternoon: at the end of a shift there is oil and/or linseed oil cakes/linseed meal.

The nomination was made by committed volunteers from the Olie- en korenmolen Woldzigt, Noordmolen Twickel en Oliemolen Eerbeek.

Visit the oil mills of the Netherlands

There are still 20 oil mills in operation in the Netherlands, sometimes maintained and managed by professional millers, but often by volunteers. For the wind and water mills included in this website, you will find the items of the same name in the menu at the top of the website.

Come and see the mills and be amazed by the often beautiful surroundings, the construction, the technology and the story of the millers and oil butchers about their mill and centuries-old profession.

Addition to the Intangible Heritage Netherlands inventory

On December 5, 2017, there was a party for the Dutch millers. The ancient craft of milling has been recognized by UNESCO as Cultural Intangible Heritage. A recognition for an old craft with a bright future. Please see the UNESCO page in this website for more information.

On December 6, 2023, Olieslaan was added to the Intangible Heritage Inventory of the Netherlands. After this new addition, more than 200 forms of intangible heritage have been added to the Intangible Heritage Inventory of the Netherlands, including crafts, festivals and social practices. Entry into the Inventory is a means to help practitioners keep their intangible heritage alive. By adding it to the Inventory, they show that they are working on safeguarding their intangible heritage and working on its visibility.

Three business corridors

Oil can be extracted from flax, linseed, rapeseed and hemp seed and pressed from beech and walnuts, among other things. This happens in the next three operations.

Oliemolens.nl - Kollergang

The first business run

The first operation is the crushing of the seed, this is done on the collet corridor. The coller stones (edging stones) crush the seed into flour. The ironer sweeps the splashing seed back under the stones. Once the seed has been sufficiently bruised, the miller lowers the runner and opens the slide, through which the flour falls into the flour container.

Oliemolens.nl - Vuister

The second business run

The second operation is heating the seed flour. Heating is done on the fist. This is a firebox made of stone covered with a steel plate. On top of this lies a bottomless pan in which the seed flour is heated to approximately 40 degrees. For production for consumption no hotter than 43 degrees Celsius, for other production up to 80 degrees Celsius. When the seed flour has heated up, the oil butcher slides the pan with the contents over the funnels, after which the seed flour falls into the two suspended bags (buul).

Oliemolens.nl - Slagbank

Below is a sketch explaining how the press bench of an oil mill works.

Oliemolens.nl - Slagbank

The third course of action

The third line of business is oil mining. This oil pressing takes place on the press bench. The bagss are placed here between a pressing board and then placed in the pressing bench. By means of a falling hammer, the hammer is driven downwards and driven into the hammer. This puts pressure on the seed flower. This becomes liquid, causing the oil to be squeezed out of the bags and collected in containers.

Oliemolens.nl - Lijnzaadolie

The final product

The oil always contains dust from the base product. The oil is stored in barrels to settle. This takes several weeks. The oil is then drained above the sediment, resulting in clear oil as shown above. In this case linseed oil.

If oil is preferably stored in a dark place, such as in a cupboard, it can be stored for years without deterioration occurring. Flaxseed oil for consumption can be stored in this way for more than 10 years.