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Killing Cats in the Medieval Period: An Unusual episode in the history of Cambridge, England

Killing Cats in the Medieval Period: An Unusual episode in the history of Cambridge, England

By Rosemary M Luff, Marta Moreno Garcia

Archaeofauna, Vol.4 (1995)

cat and mouse in the lutrell psalter

Abstract: The partial skeletons of 70 medieval cats were recovered from a well in Cambridge, England. The animals had been killed by having their throats cut and were subsequently skinned and dismembered for consumption by the inhabitants of the town. A metrical study revealed the small stature of the cats in comparison with theose from medieval Colchester and late medieval and early post medieval Norwich, while an allometric analysis showed that the build of the animals was different from those excavated at the early medieval town of Haithabu, Germany, where even the female cats were much larger than the Cambridge males. Both the Haithabu and Cambridge cat assemblages are composed of almost equal proportions of males and females, and this, certainly in the case of the Cambridge sample argues against the slaughtered animals having been held in captivity.

Introduction: The treatment of domestic cats in the medieval period (late 11th-15th centuries AD) of England has not been determined satisfactorily. There is little documented evidence available and few sizeable bone assemblages have been recovered from archaeological sites. Were they viewed as pets or pests? How important were they in the extermination of vermin? How much value was put on their skins? And were they ever eaten?

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