Footprints from the past

We have some interesting footprints (empreintes de pas) from the past. We think they were created by three or four different creatures (créatures). Their age is difficult to tell, but one of these footprints is both very young and very old at the same time.

The dog or dogs

The ones made by dogs (chiens) are easy to identify. Here’s one that we have positioned on a window sill (appui de fenêtre):

A dog's pawprint in a clay tile

To be exact, this is a paw print (empreinte de patte), not a footprint.

We also have an older looking paw print, also from a dog. This one may have been created by a different dog than the first one. We keep the tile on a shelf. It’s not fixed in place. It also has some pieces of the tile missing, so you could be forgiven for thinking that the dog had five or six toes instead of four.

A dog's pawprint in a clay tile

The chicken

The next one is more difficult to see because the print is not very deep. But we believe it was made by a chicken (poulet) or a hen (poule). Either one of its right toe pressed very lightly in the left of the photograph or its left toe didn’t touch the surface of the clay (argile).

A chicken's footprint in a clay tile

A very young child

The last one is perhaps the most interesting. It’s been made by a very young child, perhaps soon after he or she first started to walk. The heel (talon) made a deep impression in the clay. The big toe (grand orteil) has dug into the clay and flicked out a little wedge of clay, making the foot look as if the big toe was pointed and belonged to an alien foot. This one is interesting enough for us to keep out on a table.

A young child's footprint in a clay tile

This is the tile that is “both very young and very old at the same time”. It was ‘made’ a long time ago by a very young foot!

Making clay tiles

Clay tiles (carreaux d’argile/tomettes) have been made in the Gers and Toulouse regions since Roman times. Usually the process is a professional one and is located in a tilery (tuilerie). Sometimes these factories were small and were more like workshops. There are villages in the Gers and the Haute-Garrone where you can still see small tile factories.

The essential ingredient is good-quality clay. This is dug from the ground, originally by hand, and cut into tile shapes. The resulting tiles are stacked (empilés) and then fired (cuit) in an oven or kiln (four/fourneau). Rustic floor tiles were even made by drying them in the summer sun.

In both these situations, just before the clay goes into the oven or starts to dry out, there is a nice damp surface laid flat which can receive the imprint of a passing foot, paw or claw.

Links

Barthe S.A., fabricant de terre cuite et de terre crue, sud de Toulouse
Terracotta, Wikipedia (English)
Terre cuite, Wikipedia (French)