What is This Mystery Object

Can you guess what this mystery object is? Hint—it’s NOT a broken horse shoe.

Yes, it is an animal shoe, but not for a horse. It’s for an ox. As you may recall, oxen have cloven hooves, so an ox would have two per foot, or a total of eight shoes for each animal.

Cattle have lived in New England for just under four centuries. The did not have domestic draft animals. They did not have animals for plowing fields or pulling wagons. Instead of planting in plowed furrows, they sowed corn, squash and beans in mounds or hills. In terms of their footprint on the landscape, they had rather than roads.

When the English colonists first arrived in 1620, they had no cattle, either. Planting crops the first couple of years must have been challenging. According to Governor William Bradford, the first cattle arrived in 1623, brought by Edward Winslow when he returned from a voyage to England.

Cattle provided the colonists with dairy products like milk, cheese and butter, as well as meat. A steer could be trained to pull a cart or plow. Cattle were so valuable that when the colonists renegotiated their debt to their backers in 1627, they divided the colony’s livestock among them. The dozen or so cows, calves and steers were apportioned to twelve groups of residents.

Over many years, cattle began to have an impact on the landscape as the colonists widened Native footpaths into roads. Fences were built to protect crops from wandering livestock. Archaeological excavations reveal that by the end of the century, the colonists ate almost all beef.

The ox shoe may look like a modest scrap of iron, but it represents quite a bit of history.


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