Italian archaeologists have discovered an ancient terracotta pig which worked as a toy as well as a modern-day baby bottle.

Known as guttus, the unique vessel dates back about 2,400 years, when the “heel” of Italy was inhabited by the Messapian people, a tribal group who migrated from Illyria (a region in the western part of the Balkan peninsula) around 1000 B.C.

Featuring pointy ears and human-like eyes, the pig-shaped guttus featured terracotta rattles in its tummy to apparently encourage the baby to sleep after the meal.

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The small terracotta pig is one of several rare objects found last May in Manduria, near Taranto in Puglia, when construction work exposed a Messapian tomb.

Cut into rock, the 8- by 4-foot tomb was decorated with ocher, red and blue bands. It contained the remains of two individuals — in line with the Messapian custom of burying family members together in the same grave.

“We found some skeletal remains piled in an angle. Other remains, related to a later burial, occupied the entire tomb,” archaeologist Arcangelo Alessio of the Archaeological Superintendency of Puglia, told Discovery News

Alessio and his team recovered about 30 funerary objects, which have now been cleaned and restored. They included jars, plates, lamps, ointment vases, three baby feeding vessels and two terracotta statuettes depicting female subjects.

Objects such as a black painted basin and an iron blade of a knife suggest a male burial, while a strong clue for a female burial came from a special Messapian pottery vase called trozzella. Featuring four little wheels at the tops of its handle, versions of the vase are often found in the graves of Messapian women.

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“Analysis of the funerary objects and their context suggest that the two burials followed one another in the Hellenistic period, between the end of the fourth and the third-second centuries B.C.,” Alessio said.

The presence of three feeding vessels would point to a third burial, possibly belonging to a newborn girl, as suggested by the two terracotta statuettes found in the tomb. Indeed, these sculptures were often placed in burials of young girls.

“We might speculate that the female individual was pregnant at the time of death,” archaeologist Gianfranco Dimitri, who followed the excavation, told Discovery News.

“It’s an intriguing hypothesis, although it is also likely that the tender baby’s bones totally decomposed over the centuries,” he added.

Image: The pig shaped guttus, a 2400-year-old version of a modern-day baby bottle. Credit: With kind permission of the Archaeological Superintendency of Puglia.