Can an animal reshape a part of the colonial history of a nation? Results of a new study show a slightly different story than Barbados’ currently accepted colonial history.

Ligon Map Of Barbados

In Richard Ligon’s 17th century map of Barbados, he documented the rich biodiversity and natural history of Barbados, including the translocation of several animal species in the post-contact era. Included in his account are the pigs that were believed to have been introduced to the island by passing sailors. This was a common practice among sailors in the 16th and 17th century so as to ensure a supply of meat, and by 1625, the English people who came to the island noted the abundant amount of pigs.

This is a long-accepted historical account of the introduction of pigs into the island, but is it possible that it may actually be wrong? In a new study, researchers discovered that the “pigs” observed by the colonizers may not even be pigs at all.

Peccary, Not Pig

According to lead author Christina Giovas, they were initially unaware of the distinction in the beginning. They merely collected the animal bones along with the others, and even thought that they had made a mistake in species identification. However, the bones were actually of a peccary instead of a pig’s.

Peccary are animals that closely resemble pigs and are actually commonly mistaken for either pigs or wild boars. Dating reveals the peccary bones to be from 1645 to 1670, which is around the time when the English documented finding European pigs on the island, suggesting that perhaps what they believed were pigs were actually peccary.

Furthermore, the results show that the peccary was born in the island, which means that there was a previous, undetected peccary introduction to the island.

Portuguese Or Spanish Introduction

According to the researchers, there are several possibilities as to how the peccary got to the island, but the most likely explanation is that they were introduced by Spanish or Portuguese sailors who released a pair of the animals, as was the practice at the time, to ensure a supply of meat in future passings.

This not only challenges the long-held belief surrounding pig introduction to the island, but also shows how rapidly the Europeans’ arrival altered the environment and species distribution. Today, peccary no longer exist in Barbados, suggesting that the species introduction ultimately failed.

The study is published in PLOS One.

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