The Archaeology of Pig Domestication in Eurasia

Abstract

The multifaceted behavioral and ecological flexibility of pigs and wild boar (Sus scrofa) makes study of their domestication both complex and of broad anthropological significance. While recognizing contextual contingency, we propose several “pathways” to pig domestication. We also highlight the diversity of pig management practices. This diversity complicates zooarchaeological detection of management techniques employed by humans in the early steps of domestication, and we stress the need for multiple lines of evidence. Drawing together the evidence, we review early Holocene human–Sus relations in Japan, Cyprus, northern Mesopotamia, and China. Independent pig domestication occurred in northern Mesopotamia by c. 7500 cal. BC and China by c. 6000 cal. BC. In northern Mesopotamia pig domestication followed a combined “commensal and prey” pathway that evolved into loose “extensive” husbandry that persisted as the dominant form of pig management for several millennia. There are not yet enough zooarchaeological data to speculate on the early stages of pig domestication in China, but once that process began, it involved more intensive management (relying on pens and fodder), leading to more rapid selection for phenotypes associated with domestication. Finally, pig domestication “failed” to take off in Japan. We suggest this was related to a number of factors including the lack of domestic crops and, potentially, cultural barriers to conceiving animals as property.

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Acknowledgments

We wish to thank Richard Meadow, Rowan Flad, Cheryl Makarewicz, and Minghao Lin for helpful discussions and comments on drafts of this paper. Thanks also to Saiji Arai for sharing his data from Hasankeyf and Sumaki, Joris Peters and Nadja Pöllath for sharing metrical data from Nevali Çori, and to Yitzchak Jaffe for providing a map of China. MDP would like to thank the staff at the Field Museum of Natural History and Melinda Zeder at the Smithsonian for facilitating access to collections. Funding for research was provided by a Smithsonian Short-Term Visitors Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant (#1405344). Research on the Çayönü material was supported the National Science Foundation and the Nissan Science Foundation, and by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Grants-in-Aid of Scientific Research (#12571041, 15405017, 17063007, 24101006, 18H00754, 18H05444). Support during the writing of this article was provided by the Humboldt Foundation. We would also like to thank Melinda Zeder, Thomas Cucchi, and four additional anonymous reviewers for their helpful insights, which have improved this manuscript greatly.

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Price, M., Hongo, H. The Archaeology of Pig Domestication in Eurasia. J Archaeol Res 28, 557–615 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10814-019-09142-9

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Keywords

  • Pigs
  • Sus scrofa
  • Domestication
  • Neolithic
  • Holocene
  • Zooarchaeology