A Roman Paw Print

Even if you are more of a cat lover, I think you might struggle not to find this object from Leeds City Museum’s collections rather endearing.

This is a fragment of clay roof tile, dating from the Romano-British period (AD 43 – 410). You can see the bright orange fabric of the fired clay used to make the tile and the uneven, pitted surface which is wear caused by hundreds of years of deposition in the ground.

Romano-British Tile LEEDM.D.1966.0196

The Romans were the first people in Britain to make and use fired clay tiles, and indeed the tradition largely died out with the end of Roman occupation in the early fifth century AD, only to re-emerge in the medieval period, around the twelfth century AD. Roman roof tiles were manufactured in bulk by hand. Wet clay would be squeezed into rectangular-shaped moulds, which created their distinctive rectangular shape, and any rough edges smoothed off using a length of wire. The clay was then left to air dry outside before firing, usually in a large open space such as a public court yard.

Clearly people weren’t too careful about avoiding these drying tiles as we get numerous examples of tiles with paw prints, foot prints and scratched graffiti on their surfaces. Sometimes the indentations of plants can even be seen on the underside of tiles.

Indeed our tile appears to have been paid a visit before it dried completely. Look closely at the indentations on its surface – what can you see? These marks could be interpreted as finger or thumb prints, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Roman pooch!

Close-up of indentations

We know very little about this object – is it unprovenanced and some might argue of little archaeological interest today. However I think it is special and valuable as it provides a real snapshot into everyday life in a Roman town.

Lucy Creighton
Archaeology Intern


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