One aspect that I like about history is its flexibility. It allows every assumption and theory to be rediscovered. It makes possible for the past to come back and be reinterpreted in light of new findings.
One of these examples made the news recently. In 1969, a 2000-year-old Roman tile was dug up on Berkeley Street in Gloucester, England, but it was only 46 years later that the tile got reviewed and some cat paw prints were discovered.
Let’s go into detail about the type of tile we’re talking about. It’s 100 A.D. and Romans are building roofs with these tiles, known as tegulae. The tegula was a plain flat tile that next to an imbrex (a semi-cylindrical roofing tile that looks like a half-pipe), overlapped creating a waterproof roof covering for their buildings.
According to David Rice, the curator at the Gloucester City Museum where this tile has been stored since it was dug up:
“It may have been from a house similar to those at Pompeii with a garden and fountain, these sorts of houses are more suited to a Mediterranean climate than a British one so it must have been intended for people who were familiar with those sorts of buildings and that level of comfort.”
It is believed that those roofs were left to dry out in the sun, which made it possible for animals (and sometimes people) to walk across leaving their footprints (or paw prints) on the wet clay. Apparently, it was common to find dogs’ prints but not so much cats’. This could be one reason why these paw prints went unnoticed. They may have been noticed and confused as dogs’ and therefore not reported.
There could be another reason they went unnoticed. Rice says, “the excavation in 1969 was a ‘rescue dig’ so they were working as quickly as possible to excavate as much as they could before the bulldozers moved in. It is still the biggest archaeological excavation there has ever been in Gloucester with thousands of finds.”
So why did they came to light so many years later? Apparently because an expert in Roman tiles was going through the collection to prepare an academic article on the difference between Roman tiles from Gloucester and nearby Cirencester.
I can’t help thinking that the changes in the roles of cats lately, may also have something to do with it. Would it have been noticed some years ago when people were not so focused on cats? Have we become more aware of the signs felines leave in our lives? If these paw prints were noticed back in 1969, maybe no one really cared if this was another proof of cats ruling our lives, or if they were from a domesticated cat or a Roman army one. Our vision may be changing history, or at least allowing us to reinterpret it. That’s the beauty of it.
This tile is now on display at the Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery. If you can, you should go and check it for yourself.