Wednesday, July 30, 2014

If the Shoe Fits: Mystery Artifact Revealed

Our readers took a look at our recent mystery artifact and guessed correctly that it had something to do with transportation:

After the clue that you would need eight of these to do the job properly, many readers guessed that this metal item had something to do with wagon brakes.  This was a great guess, although not exactly the function of this item.

This is a shoe for an ox.  Because oxen have cloven hooves, they need a shoe on each part of their hoof to protect the hoof from damage or splitting.  With all those nails driven into the hoof  to attach the shoe it may look like being shod hurts the ox, but because the hoof is made from material similar to human fingernails, it is no more painful than clipping fingernails would be to us!

This image was taken from a website called Draft Animal Power Network, and it shares several photos of cattle being shod.  Here is a link to the forum :   Below is another great image from the site, showing the tongue, similar to the one on the shoe in our collection, protruding from between the ox's "toes."

Oxen were very important to European-American colonists and settlers in our region.  When yoked together, two oxen could pull loads of several tons, making them more efficient than a horse team for pulling heavy wagons loaded full of supplies and household possessions.  They were hardy creatures with bodies well-suited to process scrubby brush and plants found along the trail, so they were easier to feed than horses.  While oxen pulled at a slower pace than a horse team, they pulled more steadily and could average 16 to 18 miles a day.  Additionally, if an ox was injured or died while on the trail, it provided a good food source.

Oxen played a different but equally important role on established homesteads.  They were useful in clearing trees to create farm fields, moving building supplies, and plowing the tough prairie sods for planting.  Below is a link to a video from Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, showing a woman plowing a field with oxen hauling the plow:
Plowing a Field with Oxen
It looks like hard work - I think I would be more tired than the oxen at the end of a day behind a plow!

Did you know some ox breeds are in danger of becoming extinct?  As oxen on family farms were gradually replaced by first horses, then later technology including tractors, historic bloodlines have been lost.  However, historians at Colonial Williamsburg are helping to revive a couple of rare breeds while teaching more about the large animals and their importance in early American life.  Here is a link to an article on Colonial Williamsburg's website describing their work:
Smart as a Ox

Stop in at the Museum to take a close look at our ox shoe and maybe catch a sneak peek of our next mystery artifact!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

UFOs at the Museum!

Hello, all!  Can you guess what this week's Mystery Artifact might be?

If I were out excavating an archaeological site and found this item, I might joke that it is a UFO - an "unidentified ferrous object" (with ferrous meaning an object containing iron).  As you might guess from the rusty color of this artifact, this object definitely contains its fair share of iron!

The crescent-shaped object has a somewhat pointed end bending up at a 90-degree angle from the flat portion of the plate.  It also has five rectangular holes pierced along its outer edge.

Do you know what this object is?  As always, post your best guess in the comments section on the blog or on our Facebook page.

And - speaking of archaeology - be sure to stop by the museum to take a look at the artifacts excavated by our archaeology campers in early June!  They are on display in a case near the front desk of the Museum.  Hope to see you soon!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Traveling in Time

It's finally time for the big reveal.  This week's mystery artifact is called a traveler, and the metal wheel was used to measure a specific unit of distance (for this artifact, about 24 inches).  You might see a similar tool being used today to by modern surveyors measuring distance, like the one below.


These helpful metal tools were used to measure the circumference of a wagon wheel to make sure the iron tire placed around the wheel would fit.  The wooden wheels were reinforced with iron tires to make them sturdier as they navigated rough and bumpy terrain. 

The iron tire would be heated and fitted to the wheel, then quenched in water quickly to keep the wooden wheel from singing or being damaged.  The quenching also caused the iron to shrink tight around the wooden wheel.

Wagons were extremely important in the expansion of the United States.  The wagon was a moving truck, chapel, and house for weeks or months at a stretch.  This original mobile home helped European-Americans move west and settle across the breadth of the continent.

The computer game Oregon Trail often played by schoolchildren features a wagon as the mode of transportation, with the players acting the part of settlers forging their route westward through an unforgiving terrain.  As we all know from classic Westerns, wagons would travel in groups called wagon trains.

Travelers were important tools used by early blacksmiths to help make wagon transportation safer and more efficient for the earliest settlers of the majority of our country.