Sunday, March 22, 2015

Guinea Pigs in Europe in the 1500s

It's time for another guinea pig history lesson! You may remember that in a previous post, we pointed out that the earliest guinea pig portrait is from the year 1580, and depicts Elizabethan children holding a guinea pig. Here's a painting from the year 1615 (so 35 years later than the last one) that we found in a National Geographic article :

Article caption: "A detail from a 1615 painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder shows multicolored guinea pigs. PAINTING BY JAN BRUEGHEL THE ELDER, STAPLETON COLLECTION/CORBIS" (source: National Geographic News)
I'd be scared if I were those guinea pigs! It must be scary to be surrounded by much larger animals like that.

The National Geographic article discusses how archaeologists dated guinea pig bones in Belgium to the 16th or 17th centuries, soon after the Spanish made contact with South America (where guinea pigs originated).

Looking at a variety of evidence, the article claims that guinea pigs were mostly kept as pets in Europe, and were not just pets for the upper-classes. The only other guinea pig skeleton from the 16th century in Europe was found in a wealthy manor in England, leading archaeologists to think guinea pigs may only have been a pet for the rich. However, this new evidence suggests otherwise.

So even in 16th-century Europe, people knew what great pets we are!