An archaeologist from University of Leicester has found a bone belonging to a late19th-century tortoise from Stafford Castle, Staffordshire, and is believed to be the earliest archaeological evidence of a tortoise kept as a family pet.
Dr Richard Thomas said that the significance of the find is in the insights it gives on the early importation of tortoises and the changing attitude of British society towards family pets.
The Stafford Castle tortoise bone was found amongst the skeletons of cats and dogs, in a context that suggests it was kept as a pet, possibly by the family who were caretakers at the castle at the time.
The date of the find coincides with the late 19th-century increase in the trade of live animals and with the widespread importation of tortoises in particular.
"Although we have archaeological evidence for terrapins and turtles from the 17th century, this is the first archaeological evidence we have for land tortoise in Britain. It seems very likely that this specimen was imported from North Africa or the Mediterranean; by the later 19th-century there was a dramatic rise in the commercial trade in tortoises from these regions to satisfy the growing demand for pet animals,' said Thomas.
The discovery of the Stafford Castle tortoise bone a few years ago, now reported in Post-Medieval Archaeology, adds to the archaeological evidence that by the late 19th century ordinary families were keeping animals as pets with which there was probably some bond of affection.
"Unfortunately, this interest in keeping exotic pet animals resulted in the capture and translocation of millions of wild tortoises each year during the 20th century. The animals were crated in ships and kept in appalling conditions; countless tortoises died during this journey and those that survived fared little better, given away as fairground prizes and kept by people with little knowledge of their upkeep. It was not until an EEC regulation in 1988, that this trade in wild tortoises was prohibited," revealed Thomas.
The study has been published in Post-Medieval Archaeology. (ANI)