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Chapple, R. M. 2013 'Wingnut' the Archaeology Cat. Blogspot Post

Chapple, R. M. 2013 'Wingnut' the Archaeology Cat. Blogspot Post

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Published by Robert M Chapple
Chapple, R. M. 2013 'Wingnut' the Archaeology Cat. Blogspot Post
Chapple, R. M. 2013 'Wingnut' the Archaeology Cat. Blogspot Post

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Published by: Robert M Chapple on Sep 27, 2013
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'Wingnut' the archaeology cat
 Originally posted online on 8 March 2013 at rmchapple.blogspot.com(http://rmchapple.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/wingnut-archaeology-cat.html)  'Wingnut' in relaxed poseI recently encountered the story of  Migaloo,the black Labrador who has been trained to sniff  out human bones several centuries old. Australian dog trainer Gary Jackson, ownerof  Multinational K9,has pulled off this remarkable feat and discovered a number of aboriginal graves in South Australia, and hopes to assist in the recovery of bodies from WWII battlefields
in Europe. Inevitably, Migaloo is now being billed as ‘the world’s first archaeology dog’. I’msure he is, and I’m very happy for him. However, it will
come as no surprise to pet owners that
cats got there first … and by quite a while!
  When I was younger I did not particularly like cats
I had nothing against them, but I was
definitely not ‘a cat person’. That was right up until I was introduced to Wi
ngnut. My wife brought him home one day from a local animal shelter and he immediately set about beingfurry and cute - and instantly won my heart. In short order, this was followed by him firstridding our student accommodation of its rodent population, and then seeking out every mouse on the entire terrace. We, of course, knew that he was talented
he could form himself into all the various poses of an heraldic lion (rampant, passant, sejant, couchant,
etc.
) … well,
until you took your hand away and he legged it. There was also talk of him starring in a fully-costumed, one-cat production of  Les Misérables.Unfortunately, this plan was curtailed by my  inability to sew, sing, or operate a video camera without being clawed. Ah! What might have been!One day I was sorting some finds and, purely as a joke, I held up a piece of struck flint in onehand and a sherd of 19th century potter
 y in the other. I looked at the cat and asked: “Wingnut,
 which of these is
older
?” … he immediately went to the flint and rubbed his head against it –
 this cat knew his archaeology! Over the coming months the experiment was repeated multipletimes with different artefacts and different questions
 
“which of these is
 
younger
” that type
of thing. He never once got the answer wrong! This continued for quite some time, becomingsomething of a party trick and impressing all those who came in contact with it.
 
I think it was in late 2002, when I wasmonitoring topsoil stripping at a site in Toome Co. Antrim, I had a few bags of Late Mesolithic flint in the house when an acquaintance called. I showed him the flint to see if he could confirmmy dating of the pieces. Somewhere along the way the conversation turned to the fact that,
 while his opinion was all very nice, it wasn’t necessary as I’d alre
ady had confirmation from
the cat. I explained that I’d held up a piece of flint to Wingnut and asked: “Wingnut, is thisNeolithic?”. He looked at the piece, but came no closer. When I asked: “Wingnut, is thisMesolithic?” he looked again. This time, howev 
er, he came up close, sniffed it and thensignalled his assent by rubbing his head against it. My visitor was less than impressed and
muttered darkly about bias in the sample, the cat taking slight facial cues from me to ‘choose’
the correct answer
etc
. “Nonsense”, says I … “try it yourself and see”. Once again we wentthrough the tests of ‘which is older’, ‘which is younger’, ‘is this Bronze Age/Neolithic’ etc. Every 
time he got it completely correct. My visitor, angry and perplexed at his apparent inability to
disprove my thesis, and the cat’s obvious talent, suggested a different question: could the cat
tell the difference between a genuine artefact and a natural piece of flint. Picking up two piecesof flint, he held them up for feline inspection and
asked: “Wingnut, which of these is a realartefact?”. I’d never tried this test, so I was on tenterhooks wondering which way this would
go. In what feelt like a glacial expanse of time, the cat looked up, had a bit of a stretch, andsniffed both pieces of flint. My heart was hammering in my chest as he took a second look at
 both and then stroked his head against the wrong one! … In that moment, my guest waselated and I devastated … but it is only for a moment as he immediately went to rub his head
off t
he second piece of flint. He’d chosen both pieces, but this was little consolation to me and
detracted in no way from the heinous glee of our cynical visitor
the cat was wrong and the
100% track record was shattered. Except … as he placed the two pieces
of flint back on the arm
of my couch, I notice something … I asked: “Er … that ‘natural’ piece you have there … is that
at that end … right beside the
… Yes, the cat had
spotted what we had both missed
both pieces were genuine artefacts. 100% reputationrestored!Fantastic, marvelous Cat: 1Self-proclaimed flint 'expert' (now with rage issues): 0.

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