High on a windy plateau in the Cotswold Hills of southwest England recently, a rare Guernsey golden nanny goat was persuaded to make one small step for archeology by putting her footprint on a slab of soft brick clay.
"Marvelous!" cried the archeologist, Leslie Cramm, all but jumping up and down beside the narrow cattle race through which the goat had just reluctantly passed. "Look at the foot!"
Archeology and zoology had been brought together in the hope of proving something important for the history of England. Did these feet, or something similar, walk upon England's green and pleasant land 2,000 years ago?
Cramm, as the keeper of archeology at Reading Museum, is the custodian of a collection of Roman brick tiles found on the excavation site at Silchester, near Reading, at the turn of the century. About 100 of them bear the footprints of sheep, cattle, and even children who evidently stepped on them before the clay was set.
This month he attended a symposium on zoo-archeology at the Cotswold Farm Park, a breeding reserve for rare and ancient species of farm animals, owned and run by England's Rare Breed Survival Trust.
Henson agreed to test Cramm's theory that the footprints of animals at the farm park could turn out to be the same as those on the Roman tiles, thus confirming for posterity the identifications already made, largely by guesswork.
Somehow the sheep, pigs and calves among Henson's flocks and herds had to be coaxed across rows of half-set clay blocks, cast at the Arborfield Brickworks in Berkshire and carried up to the hills above Guiting Powey in Glouchestershire in Cramm's van.
It was a supremely English occasion in which science was served best by innovation and humor. What other archeologist, so occupied in serious matters, would cry: "look at that lovely little sheep -- I want to hold it." Who but an English farmer in a tweed cap would wrestle with a squealing piglet to direct its tiny trotters across a causeway of sticky blocks, measuring six-by-four inches.
The first across was a Soay ram, one of a flock of 20 owned by Henson and the direct descendant of those common in the British Isles as far back as Neolithic times. It stumbled usefully across bricks numbered 2 and 3, and the imprints were carefully logged on a clipboard by a Cramm's assistant.
The Guernsey nanny went across with untrimmed toenails and was then given a pedicure so that, as Henson said, the prints would look as though it had "just done a walk down Watling Street."
A castrated Jacob lamb was brought to the sacrifice, followed by a beautiful horned Herdwick ewe, whose performance was instantly declared "fabulous" by Cramm. The squeals of the infant Gloucester Old Spot piglet rent the air, but Cramm said kindly: "Don't be frightened, little pig."
Henson was delighted by the chance to put his life's interest to scientific use. He began his collection after he had joined a working party set up in 1968 to preserve rare animal breeds, and the Cotswold Farm Park was a natural outcome.
For Cramm, the prospect is one of exciting learned papers as well as the satisfaction of having brought a bright idea to fruition. There remained one puzzle: How was it that so many Roman animals seemed happy to tread on soggy tiles when modern successors did everything to hop round them? Possibly, at Silchester, they were trying to keep them off.