Out of the Museum

What is this tool?

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Where: Beermann Plaza at 640 5th St.

When: Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays

Free: Donations always accepted

The Lincoln Area Archives Museum has some strange-looking tools from the past on display.

If you know or might know what this week’s mystery item is, please send answers to by Feb. 19.


Mystery item from Jan. 31

Three readers knew what the Jan. 31 mystery item was and its various uses.

Anne C. and Ray Birge: “In spite of not being able to clearly see the top, we think it's a cast iron mortar and pestle.”

Patty Beckett: “I think these two items were used to grind up seeds for making bread or rolls. My great-grandmother brought hers from Sweden when she emigrated to the U. S. Great-grandma used hers to grind cardamom seed to use in her bread and rolls. Some people would call these a mortar and pestle.”

For centuries, the mortar and pestle set has been used medicinally and in the kitchen. The mortar and pestle are used in a variety of ways, including to crush ingredients when preparing a prescription and to crush pills. Cooks for centuries have relied on this tool to turn ingredients, everything from nuts to grains, into paste or powder.

Mortar and pestle sets range in size, style and materials. Ancient Egyptian sets were made of stone. In the 14th-century, they were made of bronze.

Ceramic mortars and pestles today are used in pharmacies and in the lab.  Modern machines can be set for time and intensity to enable a consistent, reproducible result imperative to scientific labs.

In the kitchen, mortars and pestles continue to be used to grind fresh spices, including black peppercorn, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, fennel seeds and allspice, to name a few. When spices and veggies are crushed, more flavor and oils are released as compared to lightly-chopped food.

The museum’s mortar and pestle set was donated by Scott Benedict, who was raised in Lincoln.  One of Scott’s relatives is Niels Nielsen, born in Denmark, who homesteaded property in the Mt. Pleasant area on the corner of Wise and Garden. Niels had the 80-acre Nielsen Ranch.

Christian Nielsen, Niels’ father, also born in Denmark, emigrated to Lincoln about 1882. Niels also named one of his sons, Christian. Niels and his wife had seven children from 1885 to 1900. Various families lived on the ranch over the years. The Benedicts married into the family and Wilber (Bill) Benedict inherited the ranch.

Jerry Benedict told museum docents how much he enjoyed visiting his grandparents in the early 1940s and remembers the antiques in and outside the ranch home.  Jerry bought 10 acres next to the original 80-acre property where he established his home.

Docents tried to figure out how the local family used the set.

Scott Benedict, who donated the mortar and pestle, spoke with Jerry Benedict and they cleared up the mystery of how this particular mortar and pestle was used.  The ranch sits in the area where various claims produced gold. The two Benedicts said that ore from various areas were shoveled into the mortar, then taken to an assayer where it was broken down by using the pestle, thereby determining if the specimen was indeed gold-bearing ore.  

To see more local mysteries, check out the Lincoln Area Archives Museum between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays at Beermann Plaza at 640 5th St.

- Carol Feineman