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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 many types of blades of quite different appearances and purposes. Some can perform multiple functions. Others are intended for a specific use. For example, the collinear hoe has a narrow, razor-sharp blade which is used to slice weeds by skimming it just above the surface of the soil with a sweeping motion; it is unsuitable for tasks like soil moving and chopping). The typical farming and gardening hoe with a heavy, broad delta-shaped blade and a flat edge is the Dego hoe.
The Dutch hoe (scuffle, action, oscillating, swivel, or Hula-Ho) is a design that is pushed or pulled through the soil to cut weeds just under the surface. Its tool-head is a loop of flat, sharpened strap metal. It is not as efficient as a chopping hoe for pulling or pushing soil.
Stirrup hoes are designed with a double edge blade that bends around to form a stirrup like rectangle attached to the handle. Weeds are cut just below the soil surface as the blade is pushed & pulled through the area. The back and forth motion is highly effective with cutting weeds in loose or breakable soil. Widths of the stirrup blade typically range between three to seven inches.
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.
Hoes in archaeology
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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- "Scuffle hoe" or "Dutch hoe" as defined by Memidex/WordWeb dictionary/thesaurus