The Science of Nature

, 105:63 | Cite as

Did the Romans introduce the Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) into the Iberian Peninsula?

  • Cleia DetryEmail author
  • João Luís Cardoso
  • Javier Heras Mora
  • Macarena Bustamante-Álvarez
  • Ana Maria Silva
  • João Pimenta
  • Isabel Fernandes
  • Carlos Fernandes
Original Paper


New finds of bones of the Egyptian Mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon), one from Portugal and one from Spain, were directly 14C dated to the first century AD. While the Portuguese specimen was found without connection to the Chalcolithic occupation of the Pedra Furada cave where it was recovered, the Spanish find, collected in the city of Mérida, comes from a ritual pit that also contained three human and 40 dog burials. The finds reported here show that the Egyptian mongoose, contrary to the traditional and predominant view, did not first arrive in the Iberian Peninsula during the Muslim occupation of Iberia. Instead, our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the species was first introduced by the Romans, or at least sometime during the Roman occupation of Hispania. Therefore, radiocarbon dating of new archaeological finds of bones of the Egyptian Mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) in the Iberian Peninsula push back the confirmed presence of the species in the region by approximately eight centuries, as the previously oldest dated record is from the ninth century. With these new dates, there are now a total of four 14C dated specimens of Egyptian mongooses from the Iberian Peninsula, and all of these dates fall within the last 2000 years. This offers support for the hypothesis that the presence of the species in Iberia is due to historical introductions and is at odds with a scenario of natural sweepstake dispersal across the Straits of Gibraltar in the Late Pleistocene (126,000–11,700 years ago), recently proposed based on genetic data.


Egyptian mongoose Herpestes ichneumon Iberia Roman period 



We thank the Archaeoscience lab of the Portuguese Heritage directorate (LARC-DGPC) for use of their reference collection of modern mammal skeletons, José Paulo Ruas for his excellent photographs, and André Pereira for drafting the map. Finally, we would also like to thank Simon Davis for revising the manuscript and making suggestions.

Funding information

UNIARQ (Center of Archaeology, Faculty of Letters of the University of Lisbon) funded the 14C dating, and FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia) funded CD’s post-doctorate (grant: SFRH/BPD/108326/2015). CF was supported by FCT, within the project UID/BIA/00329/2013.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cleia Detry
    • 1
    Email author
  • João Luís Cardoso
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Javier Heras Mora
    • 4
  • Macarena Bustamante-Álvarez
    • 5
  • Ana Maria Silva
    • 1
    • 6
  • João Pimenta
    • 1
    • 7
  • Isabel Fernandes
    • 8
  • Carlos Fernandes
    • 9
  1. 1.UNIARQ–Centro de Arqueologia da Universidade de Lisboa, Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Universidade AbertaLisbonPortugal
  3. 3.ICArEHB, Faculdade das Ciências Humanas e SociaisUniversidade do AlgarveFaroPortugal
  4. 4.Junta de ExtremaduraExtremaduraSpain
  5. 5.Departamento de Prehistoria y Arqueología. Facultad de Filosofía y LetrasUniversidad de GranadaGranadaSpain
  6. 6.Laboratório de Préhistória, CIAS–Centro de Investigação em Antropologia e Saúde, Departamento Ciências da VidaUniversidade de CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  7. 7.Município de Vila Franca de XiraVila Franca de XiraPortugal
  8. 8.Município de PalmelaPalmelaPortugal
  9. 9.CE3C–Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal

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