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2018-09-28 17:23:42   •   ID: 2029

Protohistoric Notched Hoe from Madison County, Illinois

Figure 1
The artifact illustrated in this post is a Notched Hoe from Madison County, Illinois.

Hoes and other large bifaces here were made of high quality Mill Creek chert and have been known to archaeologists for over a century as one of the most important trade items of the Mississippian period in the central Mississippi and lower Ohio valleys during 700-1700 A.D.

A Hoe is an ancient and versatile agricultural and horticultural hand tool used to shape soil, remove weeds, clear soil, and harvest root crops.

Shaping the soil includes piling soil around the base of plants (hilling), digging narrow furrows (drills) and shallow trenches for planting seeds or bulbs.

Weeding with a hoe includes agitating the surface of the soil or cutting foliage from roots, and clearing soil of old roots and crop residues.

Hoes for digging and moving soil are used to harvest root crops such as potatoes. Hoes are an ancient technology, predating the plough and perhaps preceded only by the digging stick.

The hoe was depicted in predynastic Egyptian art, and hoes are also mentioned in ancient documents like the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 18th century BC) and the Book of Isaiah (c. 8th century BC).

Hoe-farming is the earliest form of agriculture practiced in the Neolithic but lost importance in many regions after the invention of Ploughing.

The use of large mammals – first cattle and then camels, donkeys, horses, and various equine hybrids for traction is difficult to identify archaeologically, although the presence of so-called “traction pathologies” in the lower leg and foot bones may suggest chronic load-bearing or pulling.

The presence of traction pathologies among cattle dating to the Levantine late 6th and even the 8th millennium BC suggests that cattle were regularly harnessed and used for pulling ploughs and/or sledges in early agricultural communities.

In Europe, the oldest known plough marks date from the beginning of the 4th millennium BC.

Where the plough was invented is unknown, but its use spread quickly throughout West Asia, South Asia and Europe between the 4 and 2th millennium BC.

Agriculturalists of the New World did not know the plough until the introduction of plough-farming with European colonization.

Hoe-farming was also practized in vast parts of Sub-Saharan Africa (but not the Horn of Africa), the Indian subcontinent, and Maritime Southeast Asia.

The Mississippian culture was the last major prehistoric cultural development in North America, lasting from about AD 700 to the time of the arrival of the first Europeans.

It spread over a great area of the Southeast and the mid-continent, in the river valleys of what are now the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, with scattered extensions northward into Wisconsin and Minnesota and westward into the Great Plains.

The culture was based on intensive cultivation and hoe farming of corn (maize), beans, squash, and other crops, which resulted in large concentrations of population in towns along riverine bottomlands.

Chert nodules were intensively quarried in the Mill Creek area and processed to manufacture hoes and bifaces in nearby villages. The bifaces and hoes were, as already mentioned, important trade items over the central Mississippi and Ohio river valleys from A.D. 900-1400.

Stone hoes probably were hafted to wooden handles using rawhide or bark thongs. The working edges of the blades would become dull after extended use and were periodically resharpened.

Broken hoes and resharpening flakes litter the ground in the American Bottom region of southwestern Illinois. Many hoes and hoe-resharpening flakes have lustrous silica gloss on their outer surfaces, confirming the use of hoes as digging or cultivation tools.