National Geographic Daily News
A medieval manuscript showing cat paw tracks across the pages.

Inky paw prints presumably left by a curious kitty on a 15th century manuscript.

Photograph courtesy Emir O. Filipovic

A close up of a cat paw print across a medieval manuscript.

Paw print up close. Photograph courtesy Emir O. Filipovic  

Kate Andries

National Geographic News

Published March 26, 2013

From ancient Egyptian religions to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" to the latest I Can Haz Cheeseburger meme, felines, literature, and culture have enjoyed a long love affair. But perhaps no other feline has walked through history in quite the fashion that a Mediterranean cat did when it left paw prints across the pages of a 15th century manuscript from Dubrovnik, Croatia (map).

While thumbing through the medieval manuscript in July 2011, Emir O. Filipović, a teaching and research assistant at the University of Sarajevo, discovered pages of the book stained with the inky paw prints of a cat and snapped a picture—something he planned on sharing with colleagues and students for a laugh.

"I never could have imagined the attention that those prints would subsequently receive," Filipović wrote in an email.

Filipović sent the photo to fellow historian Erik Kwakkel via Twitter in September 2012, but it wasn't until earlier this year that the paw prints saw a flurry of reblogging, retweeting, and sharing.

"It's not very often that a researcher can come across curious things while sifting through monotonous and dull archival registers," Filipović said. But the more time spent scouring manuscripts, the better the chances of stumbling across oddities.

In the course of his research—which Filipović started in 2008—he's come across small doodles, strange fungi, elaborate decorated initials, holes presumably drilled through the manuscripts by worms or other pests, and even carefully crafted watermarks.

While it makes for an interesting cat meme, Filipović hopes the photo will move beyond a fun find and inspire more interest in the medieval Mediterranean.

"[The photo] could perhaps encourage at least one researcher to dedicate more time to the history of Dubrovnik, its immediate Hinterland (Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia), and the wider Mediterranean region."

The photo will be featured in the Interactive Album of Medieval Paleography, a collection of transcription exercises intended to help train students and amateurs in the practical aspects of reading manuscript texts—especially how to decipher medieval handwriting.

Maintained by historian Marjorie Burghart, of the European Association for Digital Humanities, the album's featured manuscripts range from the 9th to the 15th century.

12 comments
Bethany García
Bethany García

To me it looks like the cat had one paw soaked in ink and was going after the quill feather after knocking over an ink well. The one on the right looks like the cat was still going after the quill as the writer was trying to shoo it away. He probably then picked the cat up, preventing further marks

John Barton
John Barton

How come the cat is walking backwards? If the ink on its paws came from the wet writing, that is. The only known incunable (printed book) with contemporary cat tracks has been known for centuries, not 'just discovered'. Some lonely librarian, knowing this, wanted fame as finding the first cat pawed manuscript.

Ancient printing ink was slow drying, but writing inks dry in a few seconds; and if we are to believe the cat walked through wet ink - why is the ink on the paws so much darker and abundant than that of the writing? National Geographic has fallen for a hoax, and been made use of to back up 'authenticity' for a more learned periodical.

Either a MS of little value has been deliberately defaced (has anyone checked the original?) or the prints were on a clear plastic sheet placed over it before photography. Assuming the cat walked from left to right, after having  knocked over an inkhorn, it would have had to have been uncharacteristically unconcerned about wading through the mess, and careless to the point of soaking all four feet.

I don't believe it!

Lina Hassen
Lina Hassen

The man writing it must have been annoyed when his cat stepped in his ink then walked all over his writing that must have taken like half an hour!

Jim Read
Jim Read

Is no one curious as to what the manuscript was about?

Valerie Vinson
Valerie Vinson

I can picture the cat walking right in front of the scribe and trying to get some attention, and keeping the man from getting his work done! As usual!

Glenn Major
Glenn Major

I don't think the cat walked over the manuscript. Cat's interior most foot pad is higher than the exterior most foot pad. It looks like the prints on the blank page may be 2 left feet. Harder to tell on the other prints.

J. S
J. S

I wonder if the writer knew what the cat had done but decided to leave it, knowing that in the distant future people would be wondering?

Kathleen Hillman
Kathleen Hillman

Evidently cats have been leaving their paw prints throughout history and up to this present day. What does this tell us about our relationships with felines? Curious companions, for sure... 

Share

How to Feed Our Growing Planet

  • Feed the World

    Feed the World

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

See blogs, stories, photos, and news »

The Innovators Project

See more innovators »

Latest News Video

  • Mazes: Key to Brain Development?

    Mazes: Key to Brain Development?

    Mazes are a powerful tool for neuroscientists trying to figure out the brain and help us learn to grapple with the unexpected.

See more videos »

See Us on Google Glass

Shop Our Space Collection

  • Be the First to Own <i>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey</i>

    Be the First to Own Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    The updated companion book to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, featuring a new forward by Neil deGrasse Tyson is now available. Proceeds support our mission programs, which protect species, habitats, and cultures.

Shop Now »