Animals loved a night on the tiles in Roman times
IN Roman times people liked to party, but it turns out that the humans were not on their own, and on occasion – when the populus decided to turn in for the night – it is evident that badgers and other animals were up for a night on the tiles as well.
Sorry but for two reasons I could not resist the corny link when I discovered the badger footprints pictured here in a Roman terracotta tile.
Firstly, the very thought of Old Brock traipsing over the tiles as they were laid out to dry, and secondly, that the Roman builders were quite happy to use the tiles on the roof, footprints and all.
It turns out that there are countless examples like these across the former Roman Empire, and the footprints even include those of young boys, such as one discovered in Northumberland last year.
You would hope the miscreant got a good telling off by the tiler, because it is not as though you could not see the tiles laid out in their hundreds.
At least the animals had an excuse, the tiles were just in the way. Most common are the footprints of different domestic animals: dogs, cats, and small ruminants,which is a sign that these animals were straying around the tilery, instead of being kept in an enclosed area.
The presence of livestock in a tile manufacturing workshop might suggest that the tilemakers practiced animal husbandry, or simply that the animals of a nearby farm or garden could wander around the drying area.
In a detailed study of the so-called Silchester tiles (Hampshire) the footprints of 91 individual animals almost exclusively belonged to domestic animals, with one crow and a fox footprint. Fifty-five of the impressions were made by dogs or cats, 22 by small ruminants, 6 by cattle, 7 by birds (mostly chicken), and 1 by a horse.
The footprints of Vindolanda (Chesterholm, Northumberland), which is the largest collection of footprints with 111 imprinted tiles, mostly belong to domestic animals as well. Over 80 per cent of the tracks were made by dogs.
The presence of the footprints of wild animals, on the other hand, makes it reasonable to assume that the drying area was not surrounded by a fence, and was therefore accessible to wildlife.
A good example is the Israeli site of Kefar ‘Othnay, near the camp of the legio VI ferrata, where, beside the dog and cat pawprints, the footprints of small wild carnivores, such as badger also appear on the tiles, as seen above.
Another example could be the Roman tilery of Casa Campacci in Livorno, Italy, where two thirds of the 18 tile fragments were covered with footprints belonging to wild animals. The footprints of domestic animals at this site were limited to dogs and cats.
Although most imprinted tiles bear the tracks of mammals, sometimes the traces of other animals, birds or amphibians are preserved as well. One of the most surprising is an impression on a tile from Aquincum (BudapestÓbuda, Hungary) - the imprint of a frog’s abdomen.
According to archaeozoological research the most common domestic animals in Roman Pannonia, present-day western Hungary, eastern Austria, northern Croatia, north-western Serbia, northern Slovenia, western Slovakia and northern Bosnia and Herzegovina, were cattle, sheep/goat, pig, dog, cat and domestic fowl, but some others were also present, such as horse, ass, goose and pigeon. Wild animals attested on Pannonian sites include aurochs, red deer, roe deer, wild swine, wild cat, badger, fox, wolf, beaver, brown hare and 16 species of wild birds.
Badger footprint in Roman tile
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop