Sunday, May 19, 2019

History Overturned: Pigs or Pioneers in Barbados, Which Came First

Which came first, the pigs or the pioneers? In Barbados, that has been a historical mystery ever since the first English colonists arrived on the island in 1627 to encounter what they thought was a herd of wild European pigs. 

The true identity of imposter 'pigs' on 17th century map overturns early colonial history of Barbados


Richard Ligon’s 17th century account and celebrated map of early colonial Barbados records the translocation of several Old World species to the island in the post-contact era, including pigs (Sus scrofa) believed to have been released by passing sailors the century prior. Researchers now challenge this long-accepted historical narrative, presenting evidence that Ligon’s “pigs” were in fact peccaries, a New World continental mammal often confused with wild boars.
A recent discovery by an Simon Fraser University (SFU) archaeologist is shedding new light on the matter. Christina Giovas uncovered the jaw bone of a peccary, a South American mammal that resembles a wild pig, while researching a larger project on prehistoric animal introductions in the Caribbean.

“I didn’t give it much notice at the time, but simply collected it along with other bones,” says Giovas, the lead author of a study published in PLOS ONE. “It was completely unexpected and I honestly thought I must have made a mistake with the species identification.”

The jaw bone of a peccary, a South American mammal that resembles a wild European pig.

Credit: SFU

Giovas and collaborators George Kamenov and John Krigbaum of the University of Florida radiocarbon-dated the bone and conducted strontium isotope analysis to determine the age and whether the peccary was born on Barbados or had been imported from elsewhere.

The results showed the peccary was local and dated to 1645-1670, when the English wrote their account of finding wild European pigs on the Caribbean island. The researchers were not only able to show there had been a previously undetected historic peccary introduction but that the region’s earliest celebrated maps depicted peccaries that had been mistaken for pigs by the English.

Physical similarities between peccaries and feral pig.(A) white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari); (B) collared peccary (Pecari tajacu); (C) feral pig (Sus scrofa). 
Photo credits: (A) -JvL-,, CC BY 2.0 License, image cropped from original; (B) Alan Vernon,, CC BY 2.0 License, image cropped from original; (C) Mike's Birds,, CC BY-SA 2.0 License, image cropped from original.

Giovas says the findings upend Barbados’ accepted colonial history and reflect how quickly Europeans began to alter New World environments by altering species distributions.

“Checking historical and archaeological records, we determined the most likely source of peccary introduction was from Spanish or Portuguese ships passing the island in the 16thcentury—and most likely left as a source of meat for future visiting sailors,” she says.

Contacts and sources:
Christina GiovasSimon Fraser University (SFU)

Citation: 87Sr/86Sr and 14C evidence for peccary (Tayassuidae) introduction challenges accepted historical interpretation of the 1657 Ligon map of Barbados
 Christina M. Giovas, George D. Kamenov,John Krigbaum
PLOS Published: May 14, 2019

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