The late ceramic age (AD500-1500) in the Caribbean was associated with increased interaction between the islands and mainland South America. The domestic guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) was introduced to the Caribbean post-AD500 through human transportation. This study aimed to use guinea pigs as a commensal model for identifying likely human migration routes and interaction spheres within the wider Caribbean region, using complete mitogenomes of ancient guinea pigs. Possible origins of early historic European and North American guinea pigs were also determined.
Complete mitogenomes of 23 ancient and two modern guinea pigs were obtained. The identified haplogroups indicate that two introductions of guinea pigs to the Caribbean occurred, and that ancient Caribbean guinea pigs were most closely related to those from Peru. The first introduction occurred through previously established trade networks from Peru through coastal Colombia to Puerto Rico post-AD500. A second introduction occurred post-AD1000 to the Southern Lesser Antilles, likely as a result of coastal migrations via the northern coasts of Colombia and Venezuela into the Caribbean. A potential origin for European domestic guinea pigs was found to be in the Andean region encompassing Peru and Bolivia and a historic period North American guinea pig was found to have come from the Caribbean. This study is the first to use next-generation sequencing to obtain complete mitogenomes of a commensal animal to investigate prehistoric interaction in the pan-Caribbean region, and results are in agreement with current archaeological evidence for human mobility in the Caribbean.