The common mongoose came to the Peninsula five centuries before what was believed

The common mongoose came to the Peninsula five centuries before what was believed

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An international team of researchers from the University of Granada (UGR) and the University of Lisbon have published in the journal The Science of Nature an interesting finding linked to a very common animal in the southwest of the peninsula: mongoose or Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon), the only mongoose that exists in Europe.

Until now it was considered that this animal had been introduced by humans to the Peninsula in Islamic times (between the 8th and 15th centuries), although certain evidence pointed to the 6th century.

However, the new work notes that the mongoose of African origin arrived here many centuries before: at least, in the 1st century AD., that is, in the middle of the High Roman Empire.

Researchers have analyzed three new findings from this species of small carnivore. Specifically, it is a partial skeleton from the ancient Augusta Emerita in Mérida, an ulna from a grotto in Vila Franca de Xira and a third found in a medieval context of the palmela castle, the latter from Portugal.

"Although traditionally, it was believed that this animal had been introduced in Islamic times, our findings significantly change this hypothesis," says Macarena Bustamante Álvarez, a researcher at the Department of Prehistory and Archeology at the UGR and one of the authors of this work.

For correct analysis, these remains were radiocarbon dated providing a dating centered on Roman times, "and thus making impossible the theory that these animals were introduced by the Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula".

The mongoose as a pet in Roman times

In addition, the archaeological context where they have appeared allows defining possible ritual patterns associated with these animals. For example, in Mérida this animal was buried along with three human skeletons and forty canids in a ritual funerary well.

"This practice would indicate to us the possibility that it was a much loved companion animal that would accompany its owners on their journey in the afterlife," says the researcher.

The other finding, in the cave of Vila Franca de Xira (Portugal), appeared in isolated context "Which allows us to define the appearance of this species in its wild habitat".

With the data provided by the archaeological context, as well as by means of radiocarbon dating, “we have sufficiently solid evidence to speak of its presence in the Peninsula, at least, since the 1st century AD, that is, in the middle of the High Imperial era. Furthermore, these findings, studied in context, indicate that it was quite possible intentionally introduced as companion animal and, perhaps, to control certain rodent pests”, Says the author.

Bibliographic reference:

Cleia Detry, João Luís Cardoso, Javier Heras Mora, Macarena Bustamante-Álvarez, Ana Maria Silva, João Pimenta, Isabel Fernandes, Carlos Fernandes. "Did the Romans introduce the Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) into the Iberian Peninsula?" The Science of Nature. December 2018, 105: 63

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