More than ten thousand years ago, people began planting crops and domesticating animals. Today, more than half of the world's population is employed in agriculture. Since the Industrial Revolution, many machines have made agricultural work much easier, but before this recent era, farming was intense, backbreaking labor, involving many hand-held tools for plowing, planting and harvesting.
Plowing and Planting
One of the most important tools for the ancient farmer was the plow. In the earliest days, farmers simply had to dig holes with a spade or shovel. These were uneven and took considerable time and effort. Originally pulled by hand, later farmers attached the plow to an animal, such as a cow, horse or donkey. A sharp triangular blade that cuts and turns over the ground, the plow loosens the earth and creates a furrow in which the farmer plants seeds. A harrow -- a flat, triangular rake with pointed teeth -- might pass over the land to break up clods. Sometimes the farmer might sprinkle seed himself; sometimes he would use a funnel attached to the device to plant as he plowed.
Before the days of modern reapers, farmers used metal blades on the end of a wooden stick, called a "scythe." If the blade on the end was crescent-shaped, it was called a sickle. To use this tool, farmers would gather a handful of stalks in one hand and use the scythe to cut the base of the stalk with the other. This was a very labor-intensive process. A pitchfork might be used to move the stalks, which were tied into bundles for winnowing.
To winnow a crop, the farmer would take the bundles of stalks into the barn and spread it out on the floor. Then he would hit the stalks with a flail, which would break the stalks into pieces. Stalk, seeds and chaff (the outer shells of seeds) would scatter around the floor. The farmer would use a rake or pitchfork to carry away most of the stalk. Then he would scoop up the remainder and put it in a winnowing pan or tray. With this, he would toss the seeds, chaff and bits of leftover stalk up into the air on a windy day. The stalk and chaff would blow away, leaving the seed.
Farming doesn't revolve around plants alone; it also includes tending to animals. Depending on the type of animals a farmer raised, he might need a variety of different tools. For example, in order to remove the wool from sheep, a farmer needed a carding comb to brush it and shears to cut it. To hook a horse or oxen to a plow or a cart, he would need a yoke that fit around the animal's neck. Other animal tools included horseshoes, bridles, grooming equipment, bells and manure forks.