Spanish, Dutch, and English traders took guinea pigs to Europe, where they quickly became popular as exotic pets among the upper classes and royalty, including Queen Elizabeth I. The known written account of the guinea pig dates from 1547, in a description of the animal from Santo Domingo. Because cavies are not native to Hispaniola, the animal was believed to have been earlier introduced there by Spanish travelers. However, based on more recent excavations on West Indian islands, the animal must have been introduced to the Caribbean around 500 BC by ceramic-making horticulturalists from South America. It was present in the Ostionoid period on Puerto Rico, for example, long before the advent of the Spaniards.
The guinea pig was first described in the West in 1554 by the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner. Its binomial scientific name was first used by Erxleben in 1777; it is an amalgam of Pallas ‘generic designation (1766) and Linnaeus’ specific conferral (1758).