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A hoe is an ancient and versatile agricultural tool used to move small amounts of soil. Common goals include weed control by agitating the surface of the soil around plants, piling soil around the base of plants (hilling), creating narrow furrows (drills) and shallow trenches for planting seeds and bulbs, to chop weeds, roots and crop residues, and even to dig or move soil, such as when harvesting root crops like potatoes.
There are two classes of hoe: pull or draw hoes; and push or thrust hoes, also called Dutch hoes.
A pull hoe has the blade set at approximately a right angle to the axis of the rod used as a handle. The user forces the blade into the ground with a downward chopping action and then pulls (draws) the blade towards them. Altering the angle of the handle can cause the hoe to dig deeper or more shallowly as the hoe is pulled. A pull hoe can easily be used manually to cultivate soil to a depth of several inches. It is not easy to use a pull hoe to cultivate and remove weeds etc. from only the surface layer of the soil.
A push hoe has the blade set in a plane slightly inclined to the axis of the rod used as a handle. The user uses the handle to push the blade forward, forcing it below the surface of the ground and maintaining it at a shallow depth in the surface layer of soil by altering the angle of the handle whilst pushing. A push hoe can easily cultivate and remove weeds etc. from the surface layer of the soil. It is not easy to use a push hoe to manually to cultivate soil to a depth of more than a fraction of an inch.
There are many types of blades of quite different appearances and purposes. Some can perform multiple functions. Others are intended for a specific use. Types of hoes include:
Hoes are an ancient technology, predating the plough and perhaps preceded only by the digging stick. In Sumerian mythology, the invention of the hoe was credited to Enlil, the chief of the council of gods. The hand-plough (mr) 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).
The human damage caused by long-term use of short-handled hoes, which required the user to bend over from the waist to reach the ground, and caused permanent, crippling lower back pain to farm workers, resulted in the California Supreme Court declaring the short-handled hoe to be an unsafe hand tool that was banned under California law in 1975. The short-handled hoe that Governor Jerry Brown gave to César Chávez in 1975 was displayed in the California Hall of Fame in 2006.
A 2000-year-old iron Roman hoe blade
Over the past fifteen or twenty years, hoes have become increasingly popular tools for professional archaeologists. While not as accurate as the traditional trowel, the hoe is an ideal tool for cleaning relatively large open areas of archaeological interest. It is faster to use than a trowel, and produces a much cleaner surface than an excavator bucket or shovel-scrape, and consequently on many open-area excavations the once-common line of kneeling archaeologists trowelling backwards has been replaced with a line of stooping archaeologists with hoes.
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