Close Only Counts in Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

Close Only Counts in Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
Horseshoe from Brody/Emmons Complex site.
Horseshoe from Brody/Emmons Complex site.

No, I’ll stop any speculation; we haven’t uncovered any hand grenades (think of how much paperwork that would be!). But we do have a horseshoe. Now you might be saying, so what? You’ve surely recovered horseshoes before. And yes, that’s true. We have found full and partial horseshoes at a number of locations around campus. However, this horseshoe from the Brody/Emmons Complex (site of East Lansing’s first landfill) never saw a horses hoof. This horseshoe was made specifically for gaming.

Although much of archaeological evidence relates to the more routine portions of life, such as cooking, hunting, or household structure, archaeologists have also found evidence of sports and gaming. Artifacts that are believed to be associated with games have been found all over the world, such as these 5,000 year old gaming tokens from Turkey, or evidence of Pre-Columbian ball courts. CAP, however, has not uncovered many sports or game related artifacts.

Men playing horseshoes circa. 1942. Image source.
Men playing horseshoes circa. 1942. Image source.

Horseshoes is an outdoors game played between two people, or two teams of two people, using four horseshoes and two targets (stakes) set up in a lawn or sandbox area. Players alternate turns tossing horseshoes at stakes in the ground, which as typically 40 feet apart. There are two ways to score: by throwing the horseshoes nearest to the stake, or by throwing “ringers”. A ringer is when the horseshoe has been thrown in a way that makes it completely encircle the stake. Disputes about the authenticity of a ringer is settled by using a straightedge to touch the end points of the horseshoe, called heel caulks. If the straightedge does not touch the stake, the throw is classified as a ringer.

1929 catalog featuring pitching horseshoes. Image source.
1929 catalog featuring pitching horseshoes. Image source.

It’s possible that this horseshoe was homemade/handmade, but they were also being sold in kits during the early 1900s.  Our horseshoe weights approximately 1 1/2 lbs, but rusting has resulted in some loss.  It is interesting to note that the pitching horseshoe catalog entry on the right sells different weights for men’s pitching horseshoes and women’s pitching horseshoes.  Since our horseshoe is close to the 1 3/4 lb weight range, it’s possible that this horseshoe was meant to be used by women.  Additionally it’s also possible that this horseshoe simply did not meet regulation standards for size and weight requirements.

Horseshoes diagram. Image source.
Horseshoes diagram. Image source.
A 1940s beer advertisement showcasing a family playing horseshoes. Image source.
A 1940s beer advertisement showcasing a family playing horseshoes. Image source.

The first formal rules for the game were established in England in 1869. However the first recorded tournament in the United States wasn’t until 1909 in Bronson, Kansas. Though the popularity of horseshoes had faded some, yard games are easy to spot today at MSU, especially on game days and at tailgates. Games like corn hole (aka bag toss, sack toss, baggo, and many other regional variations of the name) and ladder toss are easy to spot, but a  horseshoe pit is slightly more illusive these days.  Although we’ll never know why someone decided to throw away this horseshoe, we’re happy to have found it.  This artifact provides an interesting viewpoint into East Lansing’s past.

 

References:

http://www.wowhorses.com/horseshoe-sizes-chart.html#.WiloUbQ-cWo

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horseshoes

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