Hunter Gatherers Had Pigs
August 27, 2013

Early European Hunter-Gatherers Had Domestic Pigs

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Hunter-gatherers living in Europe around 4600 BC may have had domesticated pigs thanks to incoming Neolithic farmers, according to a new report in the journal Nature Communications.

Authors of the report point to evidence of interactions and an exchange of animals between established hunter-gatherer communities and proliferating farming communities around 6,600 years ago. The relationships eventually led to the hunter-gatherers adapting farming and breeding livestock into their way of life, the authors noted.

"Mesolithic hunter-gatherers definitely had dogs, but they did not practice agriculture and did not have pigs, sheep, goats, or cows, all of which were introduced to Europe with incoming farmers about 6000 BC,” said lead author Ben Krause-Kyora of Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany.

“Having people who practiced a very different survival strategy nearby must have been odd, and we know now that the hunter-gathers possessed some of the farmers' domesticated pigs."

The new study adds to the heated debate surrounding how these two groups interacted. Most experts agree that these interactions were complex and eventually led to the spread of agriculture and livestock throughout Europe.

According to the researchers, previous evidence of hunter-gatherers owning livestock has been largely circumstantial as they still weren't certain whether the pigs were acquired via trade, exchange, or confiscation of escaped animals. However, the domesticated pigs had a different coloration and appearance that probably seemed odd and exotic to the hunter-gatherers. The study researchers speculated that this uniqueness may have attracted the ancient people to the animals.

“Humans love novelty, and though hunter-gatherers exploited wild boar, it would have been hard not to be fascinated by the strange-looking spotted pigs owned by farmers living nearby,” said co-author Greger Larson, an archeologist at Durham University. “It should come as no surprise that the hunter-gatherers acquired some eventually, but this study shows that they did very soon after the domestic pigs arrived in northern Europe.”

To reach their conclusion, the scientists looked at DNA from the bones of 63 domesticated pigs found in northern Germany. Their analysis indicated that the hunter-gatherers had domestic pigs of varying size and color that had both a Near Eastern and a European heritage.

The team wrote in their report that the culture of the hunter-gatherers was not immediately affected by the acquisition of these pigs.

“Whether mere subsistence or other factors led to the acquisition of domestic pigs, it did not immediately revolutionize hunter-gatherer animal exploitation strategies,” the authors said. “It did, however, ultimately open a gateway to lifeways centered on the continuous use of livestock as a dietary staple.”

“What is clear is that these domestic pigs do, however, represent not only the first domestic animals identified from Mesolithic sites in continental northern Europe, but also the earliest domesticates from the region - appearing some 500 years before the first reliable evidence for domestic cattle, sheep or goat,” the report concluded.

The new study on pig domestication comes just after another study published earlier this month described tools used by hunter-gatherers for leather-working purposes. The ancient tools were said to be similar to those still in use today.