Pawprints 2: Roman cat ruins brickwork

February 20, 2013 • 3:04 pm

Here’s another trace of an ancient moggy, this time from a 1975 paper by G. S. Maxwell, “Excavation at the Roman Fort of Bothwellhaugh, Lanarkshire, 1967-8″ (Brittania 6:20-35; free download). I quote from the paper and reproduce the photo in question:

The most remarkable find in this category was, however, the collection of twenty-five brick-fragments which were discovered in the fill of a disused post-hole belonging to a first-period building on the north-west side of the Via Principalis; four of these bore imprints of an animal’s paw; (PL. VII).

Dr. A. S. Clarke of the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh, has kindly examined these pieces and identified the animal as a cat, probably Felis domesticus. The width of the prints varies from 25 to 35 mm, considerably smaller than that of the pad-impressions from the Roman fort at Mumrills (Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot. lxiii (1928-29), 57I f.), which were identified as Felis sylvestris. [JAC: note that the name of the housecat, once Felis domesticus, is now Felis catus or, sometimes, Felis silvestris catus, the latter designating the housecat as a subspecies of the wildcat Felis silvestris. And a subspecies of F. silvestrisFelis silvestris lybica, the African wildcat, was probably the wild ancestor of all housecats.]

The fact that the impressions of the claws can also be seen in three of the Bothwellhaugh ex-amples, although more faintly than in the Mumrills fragment, would suggest that the animal was not allowed to maintain a regular pace in its progress across the drying bricks.

I like the dry humor of the last sentence.

cat prints

h/t: Tweet by @DeepFriedDNA via Matthew Cobb

14 thoughts on “Pawprints 2: Roman cat ruins brickwork

    1. I have a client who lives in a house built in the early 1900s. In the basement there are kitty pawmarks all over the old cement floor. So nice to see that cats have been making there presence known for centuries!

  1. One of the tiles should contain the print of a human boot, not occupied by a human foot at the time of it’s ballistic trajectory terminating.
    Bothwellhaugh … [Wikis, because the Jstor article demands $12 and the skin off Aaron Schwartz’s back] is apparently in the “Strathclyde Country Park, just off the M74 between the Hamilton (northbound) and Bothwell (southbound) service stations. I’ve spent a lot of my life staring at those particular road signs in both directions with my thumb hanging out, but never been desperate enough to try hitching from the Park itself.
    Well, something else to do on a rainy boring drive from one end of the country to the other. Always worth knowing.

  2. I can derive the origin of the species name silvestris (wooded), but more impotantly, is it the origin of the famous Loony Tunes cat’s name?

    (I’m a geologist who has always favored dogs, but this site has given me an appreciation of biology and even kittehs.)

  3. Animal footprints on Roman tegulae are not infrequent, all over the ancient empire. Kittehs, of course; but also — dare I ? — dogs; occasionally humans. Examples:
    Here’s a feline example from a Roman villa rustica in Dernau in the Rhineland (second page, fig. 2).
    A doggy left a pawprint in Carnuntum near Vienna (fifth page, top image).
    Another one on a tegula from the vicus Belginum near Wederath (scroll to last page, plate 11, fig. 3).

      1. Good question.
        Pompeii mosaics certainly depict cats, and Plinius the Elder, the most notable victim of the Vesuvius eruption, mentions them.
        Carl van Vechten writes in his 1922 classic, “The Tiger in the House”:

        Among the objects unearthed at Pompeii was the skeleton of a woman bearing in her arms the skeleton of a cat, whom perhaps she gave her life to save.
        (online text:
        I did not succeed yet in finding further details about the woman and the cat.

  4. “The width of the prints varies from 25 to 35 mm”

    I was thinking the wider prints might be due to Felix landing on the tiles from a height, but then checking with my niceday metric iron, 25mm is tiny – kitten size – ahhhhhh.

  5. According to my estimable “A guide to the Roman Remains In Britain” (Prof Roger A Wilson) Bothwellhaugh was an Antonine fort (not on the wall) so would be built around 140 CE (about 20 years later than Hadrian’s). The current bath remains were excavated in the 1970’s before they flooded the area and were dismantled and moved to their current location. For those who want to visit it the grid reference is NS 731577

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