Hahn Highlights: Shell Hoe
Posted On: 08/07/2017 - 12:25pm, Posted By: Tyler Swinney, NAGPRA Coordinator and Tribal Liaison
Welcome to the fifth installment of Archaeology Collections’ long-term blog series: Hahn Highlights!
Today we have another interesting artifact recovered during Cincinnati Museum Center’s Archaeology Field School at the Hahn Site: a shell hoe from Horizon C of Feature 59. Measuring approximately 130 cm wide and 90 cm deep, Feature 59 was a straight-sided pit that had three discrete cultural horizons – A through C. Excavated during the 2009 and 2010 field seasons and containing a large amount of habitation and subsistence refuse, Feature 59 was discovered during the excavation of a wall-trench house, and was located along the densely populated northwestern periphery of the site.
At the Hahn Site, Cincinnati Museum Center archaeologists have recovered several digging implements that are thought to have been used to plant agricultural crops. By far, the most abundant of these digging implements are shell hoes, which were manufactured from freshwater mussels, or bivalves, of the mollusk Family Unionidae that are native to the many rivers in the Cincinnati-area. The shell pictured above is called a Threeridge (Amblema plicata), a very thick-shelled species that is common in the nearby Little Miami River, and the primary mussel species used to make shell hoes by the Fort Ancient agriculturalists at the Hahn Site.
When fresh, mussel shell is very hard and durable, making it an appropriate material to withstand the repeated stress of digging in the alluvium of river valleys. To make a shell hoe, a hole was drilled or punched through the thin, central part of a shell near the hinge, which was sometimes abraded or flattened to aid in hafting. Once perforated, the hole was widened to approximately ½ inch in diameter so that it could be lashed to a haft (a wooden or bone handle), making the shell hoe a more effective digging implement by providing increased leverage. Once hafted, the convex edge of the shell opposite the hinge would be used to dig and plant crops, such as maize or squash. Archaeological and experimental evidence indicate that shell hoes usually failed when the hole attaching the shell to the haft became too worn to effectively lash the two pieces together. Hence, the large, asymmetrical hole in the shell hoe recovered from Feature 59.