“Licking Dog” found in hoard of Roman bronze

Metal detectorists Pete Cresswell and Andrew Boughton discovered a hoard of Roman bronze in Gloucestershire (the exact location is not being disclosed) that includes a figurine that is unique in Britain for its quality and size. It’s a free-standing bronze statuette of a dog with his tongue hanging out. Known as a “licking dog” figure, it is believed to have been a symbol of healing and may have some connection to the temple to Nodens, a deity of hunting, dogs and healing, at nearby Lydney Park.

Licking Dog from all views. Photo by Eve Andreski.The dog stands at attention, his expression alert and focused upward, like he knows his master has a ball and is waiting for him to throw it. Holes drilled in his paws suggest he was once mounted to a base and there are two more holes on the upper left flank that may have once held pins that were part of the mounting system. There’s also a square hole on its underbelly. Each shoulder is decorated with a sideways teardrop-shaped panel incised with what could be stylized leaf or feather designs.

Cresswell, from Gloucestershire, said: “It’s not every day you come across a hoard of Roman bronze.

“We have been metal detecting for a combined 40 years, but this is a once in a lifetime discovery. As soon as I realised the items were of historical significance I contacted the local archaeology team, who were equally excited by the find.

“It’s a great privilege to be able to contribute to local and British history.”

Archaeologist Kurt Adams, Gloucestershire and Avon Finds Liaison Officer, examined the hoard. He provisionally dated it to the 4th century (318 – 450 A.D.) and the exceptional dog is the only intact piece in the group excepting a coin or two. The other artifacts are all fragments, mostly made of copper alloy. They include pieces of a broken statue of a person wearing an elaborately draped garment, vase and furniture fittings, escutcheons shaped like animal and human heads, handle terminals, bangles, folded up banding from chests or boxes, a little spoon, a hinge and a great many bits and bobs of undeterminate origin. There’s even an inscribed copper alloy plaque broken into four pieces that when puzzled back together reads (V?)MCONIA. It is curved at the back, suggesting that it too was once mounted on something. These fragments appear to have been deliberately cut up or broken, perhaps by a metal worker collecting scraps to melt down for reuse.

Intact or fragment, these objects are of great archaeological significance and require specialized treatment for their conservation and security. They are being kept at Bristol museum for the time being to give experts the opportunity to fully document, photograph and catalogue them. Once that task is complete, the British Museum’s Treasure Valuation Committee will assess the hoard’s full market value and recommend a reward to be paid in that amount, half going to the finder, half the to the landowner.

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Comment by David Knell
2017-09-29 09:10:06

The ‘licking dog’ has indeed been found before in Britain.

The Healing Power of Dogs

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Comment by history blog fan!
2017-09-29 11:18:44

I wouldn’t have given much thought to it but as the decoration of the sections of the dog figurine’s legs (or rather the shoulders/hips) and what appears to run down the legs to just above the paws struck me as perhaps some sort of a depiction leg guards (?). Could this representation of the so-called hunting god Noden? Just my response at looking at the design that the decor possibly represents those clever Romans protecting the most vulnerable area of the hunting dog with guards, perhaps constructed of metal and tooled leather and securely tied to the dogs legs. I can imagine a prized hunting dog warranting such protection from it’s prey. I doubt any evidence survives of such devices used but it would be a fascinating discovery if that were what they depicted. Not too far out of the realm once one considers something similar that would have been used by any self-respecting Roman gladiator!

Perhaps a little far out and speculative!

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Comment by BruceT
2017-09-30 04:13:25

“Let the dog lick it.”, was still being used as treatment for minor scrapes when we were away from the house on the farm when I was boy. I was stunned to find out in the 90’s there was an enzyme in dog saliva that promoted healing and validated the practice.

I’m still waiting for the standard coaches cure-all, “Rub some dirt on it and run a few laps”, to be validated.

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Comment by Edward Goldberg
2017-10-03 15:17:53

I went back to your previous post on the Temple of Nodens–a cult of Celtic origin. This bronze certainly looks more Celtic than Roman to me, with its ornamental stylization. If you showed this to me cold, here in Florence, I would have dated it to about a thousand years earlier than 316-450 AD and guessed at Eastern influence, if not an Eastern origin!

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Comment by LadyYinyang
2017-11-22 12:13:46

Hello. Just to let everyone know that there were two other licking dogs from the same time, found in Wales

My (mad) theory is that the magical healing ability of the dogs lick, comes from the Canis Major dog constellation, where Sirius the brightest star in the night sky, is on the dogs toungue!!

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