A Study into the Pawprints of Urban Dogs

  • Povilas Blaževičius
Keywords: urban dogs, pawprints, trasology, archaeology of the Late Mediaeval and Early Modern period


The aim of the article is to present a comprehensive study on specific paw parameters and features, movement peculiarities, leg injuries, hairiness, etc. of dogs that lived in the city of Vilnius and its surroundings and left their marks on clay ware made by local craftsmen. The study was based on 238 clay objects found in Vilnius and dating from the late thirteenth to the eighteenth century. Dogs were found to leave the highest number of pawprints on bricks (90.8%), with significantly lower numbers on floor tiles (8%) and roof tiles (1.2%). The apparent increase in the number of traces is recorded from approximately the fifteenth century due to the steady increase in the quantity of clay products and the accessibility of the production environment to domestic animals. More than 450 dog pawprints in clay were examined using a trasology technique. Most frequently, one, two, or three traces were found on an artefact, while four, five, or six traces on one object were much less frequent. The analysis of trace features showed that 179 of the traces were those of the forepaws and 112 of the hind paws. The assessment of the deformation of the clay articles during firing and the comparison of the data obtained with the parameters of the paws of current breeds of dogs suggest that about 2% of the pawprints were left by small or young dogs. Mediumsized dogs left 70.5% of the traces, 25.7% belonged to dogs resembling current breeds of Doberman or Labrador retriever, 4.7% dogs similar to Borzoi or German shepherd, and 0.9% to Akita or Bobtail. An additional comparison of the pawprints with those of the present-day Lithuanian hounds showed that this type of dog could have left about 22% of the total number of the paw prints studied. It can be concluded that the results of the tracing studies revealed a significantly broader picture than the zooarchaeological material. Pawprint studies show that 25% of the dogs in the city of Vilnius during the period in question were long-haired and 75% were short-haired. The recorded paw pathologies provided information on various nail and toe injuries, tendon pathologies, and one possible case of patella dislocation. Meanwhile, the analysis of the dogs’ speed of movement suggests that at least some of the dogs in Vilnius between the late thirteenth and the eighteenth century were not tied and moved freely in the environment of the craftsmen who manufactured clay ware. In summary, the preliminary results of the pawprint analysis make a significant contribution to the broader knowledge of the history of dogs and provide unique data on urban dogs, which are scarcely recorded in written and zooarchaeological sources.