First Things

What's a hame?

| May 2003

  • FC_V5_I10_May_2003_01-1.jpg
    Jason B. Harmon

  • FC_V5_I10_May_2003_01-1.jpg

I twirled the rusted piece of iron between my fingers, but no matter what angle I stared at the long-forgotten steel fragment I couldn't determine what it was. Actually, I knew what it was - one of many iron pieces recovered by archeologists from an old Arkansas homestead -I just didn't know how the metal was originally used by the farmers who'd left it behind.

That sort of unsolved mystery is far from frustrating for an archeologist like myself. It's exactly what I crave. To dig artifacts from the earth, then clean, sort and identify the pieces for posterity is partly what attracted me to the field.

Unfortunately, I wasn't as familiar with old farm tools as I was with prehistoric stone implements. Those rust-ridden pieces of iron were always the most challenging for me to identify when I worked with historical collections at the Arkansas Archeological Survey.

Determined to discover how the iron tool was used, I sought answers from others in the lab. One by one, I showed the unidentified iron to colleagues, and to my surprise, each offered a different answer. One guessed the tool was a random plow part, while another was certain it had to be a lost firearm fragment. Like most matters of opinion, everyone seemed to have a different guess for the tool's identity, but few remained certain.

I was nearly ready to label the piece 'unidentifiable' when a fellow archeologist happened to see the mysterious object as he passed.

'That's a hame,' he said casually, then walked on without realizing he'd solved the riddle that plagued me for days. I instantly ran to the dictionary and discovered that Webster defines a hame as one of the two curved wooden or metal supports that go along the sides of a draft horse collar.


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