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Cat Left a Pawprint in a 2,000-Year-Old Roman Roof Tile

While excavating a highway in Lincolnshire UK, archaeologists found thousands of artifacts, including tiles with dog, cat and deer prints

Roman roof tile with its cat print (Lincolnshire County Council)
smithsonian.com

Cats have put their pawprints on just about everything these days (they've even made it into space). Now, a new find in Great Britain shows that they were even making their mark during the Roman era. Sarah Lascow at Atlas Obscura reports that archaeologists building a new highway outside the city of Lincoln have discovered a 2,000-year-old roof tile embossed with a little cat’s paw.

Paul Whitelam at Lincolnshire Live reports that the pawprint was discovered by researchers from Network Archaeology, a company that is digging up cultural materials in the route of the Lincoln Eastern Bypass. It’s believed that after the roof tiles were crafted out of red clay and set in the sun to dry, a cat accidentally (on purpose) stepped on one of the tiles, leaving its mark.

While most Roman-era buildings were made of wood and thatch, the buildings excavated in the road bed were constructed of stone and brick, which, along with the roof tiles indicates that the set of buildings were likely part of a compound owned by wealthy Romans.

Whitelam reports that the cat print isn’t the only mark left by animals on the roof tiles. At the same site, the researchers have found tiles including deer hoof marks and dog prints. It’s also not known whether the little cat was a domestic variety, which the Romans kept around to hunt mice and rats, or whether the print could come from a species of wild cat native to Great Britain that was checking out the drying tiles.

This is not the first time a British cat has put its mark on history. In 2015, a set of cat prints was found on a Roman roof tile dated to about 100 A.D. during excavations in Gloucester. “Dog paw prints, people's boot prints and even a piglet's trotter print have all been found on tiles from Roman Gloucester, but cat prints are very rare,” Lise Noakes of the Gloucester City Council tells the BBC.

Cats have made themselves immortal in other ways as well. In 2013, a researcher found a medieval manuscript in Croatia that included pawprints left by a cat walking over the document reports Rachel Nuwer at Smithsonian.com.

While the cat print is interesting, it is only one of tens of thousands of finds researchers have made since excavations of the roadway began in 2016. In the past few months, researchers have discovered flints from hunter-gatherers, arrows and ax-heads from Neolithic hunters, and Bronze-age burials, including urns containing human ashes. Excavations from the Roman era, which include the cat tile, show evidence of large roman villa, including stone-lined wells and a fish pond. Several Roman graves were also found. The research has also uncovered a Medieval malthouse and pre-modern farmhouse along with dozens of other finds.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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