The excavations at Washingborough currently taking place as part of the construction of Lincoln’s eastern bypass have most definitely captured people’s imagination, and with good reason as the results are proving fascinating (see my earlier posts here and here). As part of the publicity surrounding the project, a ‘find of the week’ is being chosen by the excavators and published in the Lincolnshire Echo. This week’s highlight is a Roman object, in the form of a roof tile complete with a perfect paw print.
The Echo article can be seen here, and a similar piece from the Smithsonian magazine here. Although animal prints are not uncommon on Roman roof tiles, this is a lovely clear example of the type, with the whole paw and claws crisply impressed. Its being described as a cat paw, but cats usually retract their claws while walking so it may well turn out on closer inspection to have been a dog. This paw isn’t the only animal impression from the site though. My personal favourite is the deer hoof print you can see in the image below – the deep impression demonstrating the weight of the animal and the amount of clay it must have had stuck to its foot afterwards!
The question of why footprints are so often found on Roman tiles is something I discussed in an earlier post on a child’s footprint impression, also from Lincoln. Is this new print the result of an animal (if it was a cat, was it wild, a tame mouser or even a pet?) wandering across the area where the tiles were laid out to dry? Alternatively, can we suggest that such a neat print might be deliberate? After all, we rarely find more than one print on a single tile, even when the tile is larger than we might expect the animal’s stride length to have been. Might this paw have been neatly and deliberately pressed into the wet clay to give the tile some additional significance?