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Archaeology
of a
San Francisco Neighborhood

This Web site was funded by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

It was created by Anthropological Studies Center (ASC).

Pets

 

These blue-on-white hand-painted Chinese porcelain bowls were small bird feeders made to hang on the inside of birdcages. When found in nineteenth-century archaeological sites, the feeders may indicate that a household kept pets.

Although animals have been domesticated for thousands of years, it has only been since the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that people in Western culture began to treat them as what we would call pets. In the second half of the nineteenth century they became important parts of the Victorian household.

Victorian families kept not only birds, cats, dogs and fish but also rodents and squirrels. In Victorian culture, keeping pets was seen as a valuable way of training children in virtues such as kindness, self-control and responsibility. They were thought to encourage nurturing feelings in little girls, and help curb troubling aggression in boys. Pets became members of the family, prized not just for their practical skills such as guarding the house or catching rats but also as companions and even as personal accoutrements.

Catalogs supplied the Victorian family with many of the items they needed for their pet, such as the dog collar shown below. These items weren't just practical. As shown in this image from the 1886 catalog for the William Frankfurth Hardware Company, pet-related items such as cages and birdfeeders were expected to be decorative elements for the house as well.

remains of a dog collarThe downside of people's enthusiasm for pets was the need to deal with animal fertility in an era before spaying was available. Animal litters were commonly drowned at birth and discarded - the skeletons of newborn kittens and puppies are often found in nineteenth-century archaeological privy deposits.

The information on this web page was based on a more extensive essay on pets in a section of Chapter 6: "Pets", a chapter in Putting the “There” There: Historical Archaeological of West Oakland. The complete report is available for free download here.

 


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