Certain characteristics in animals make them more desirable for domestication. Many of these characteristics revolve around behavioral traits, some of which include a group structure, sexual behavior, parent-young interactions, and responses to humans (Zeder). So what exactly prompted various cultures to domesticate the wild boar? Since the pig had to have undergone domestication several times, several different reasons for domestication will exist among the different cultures. One theory of domestication, as outlined in Gzrimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, proposes that the earliest successful domestication most likely ocurred in Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and northern Iraq about 9,000 years ago.
How exactly do archaeologists support this theory? Simply put, they discovered domestic pigs in the Aenoeolithic and Bronze Age grave sites (Hutchins 281). As previously mentioned, wild boar “contributed to the local breed development” of the domestic pig in Europe; however, many Asian domestic breeds probably “influenced” the European group. Asia served as the main center of domestication, even though it did not occur first; and therefore, the Asian breeds of pig combined and altered the original group that resulted from domestication of the wild boar (Hutchins 282).
Another theory, outlined in an online journal, Worldwide Phylogeography of Wild Boar Reveals Multiple Centers of Pig Domestication, refutes the widely accepted theory of domestication I previously described. Rather, it suggests that Europe actually served as the initial site of domestication. In this study, the researchers found that “the only region in which both [wild boar and pig species] are indigenous is Germany (Greger). In their opinion, this finding, along with their knowledge that European breeds really represent a European/Asian mix (as noted in the previous theory as well), serves as evidence that the initial domestication from wild boar must have occurred in Europe first. Furthermore, they suggest that these breeds “lack any affinity” with the “wild boar lineages” of pigs found in the Middle East (Greger).
Due to mainly serving as a food source, the modern pig’s “pathway to domestication” most likely fell under the “prey” pathway, outlined by Melinda Zeder. As the title of the theory suggests, animals who follow this pathway underwent domestication after the humans hunted them down for their own benefit; often times food (Zeder). Though it may seem as though pigs present many benefits as domesticated animals. For example, according to Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, pigs do not provide as many incentives as domesticated animals as do other commonly domesticated animals, such as the cow. A few advantages other farm animals have over Wilbur include the ability to produce milk for human consumption, pulling a plow, and having a fur coat (Diamond). Though pigs do not provide milk like cows or goats, pigs actually proved much easier to domesticate than the famous milk-providing farm animals because they cost relatively little to own, which ironically results from not having to milk them. Furthermore, according to The Flow of History: The Domestication of Animals and its Effects, pigs benefited the community as well as the farmers because they kept the streets clean; so clean, that laws emerged protecting the roaming curly-tailed sanitation systems.
Beyond wanting pigs for food or to help clean the filth off the streets, religion actually played a huge role in the debatably mutual relationship between pig and human. For instance, in the Iberian Peninsula, the natives actually used to worship statues of pigs known as the verracos sculptures, pictured below (Butler):
Another instance of pigs’ contact with humans occurred when humans discovered they could utilize pigs to procure truffles (Mizelle, 95). How exactly do pigs possess the ability to detect a fungus below the ground? The sows, or adult female pig, can easily detect these truffles because send off pheromones similar to that of the boar (male pig). Furthermore, the pigs do not even require formal training to find them; one simply walks the pig on a leash and reward her with a corn kernel when she discovers a truffle. This practice began back in Roman times, when people urgently sought after the “diamond of the kitchen,” otherwise known as the black truffle of Périgord, France (Mizelle 96). A truffle may seem like an odd thing to seek so fervently, but they actually can still hold high value in the upwards of a few thousand dollars. In fact, record high for a sale of truffles occurred in 2007 at 330,000 for 3.3 pounds (Mizelle 95). However, in modern times, dogs have frequently served as truffle seekers because unlike the pig, they rarely try to eat the truffles themselves.
Pigs appeared once again in history as when “Tuskers” served as a ceremonial sacrifice for the Kaulong people (Mizelle 28). These tuskers, which were nothing more than male pigs who had only his lower canines (artfully crafted by the natives), often became ceremoniously butchered by tribe members. After the ceremony, which typically occurred during a milestone in a tribe member’s life, such as a female entering puberty, the meat then went to people outside of the village (Mizelle 28).
Despite these various benefits of pigs however, pigs sometimes proved a nuisance to society. Hutchins notes in Gzrimek’s WildLife Encyclopedia that pigs often destroyed an array of crops and also were responsible for the spread of many European diseases (Hutchins 286). I would argue however that the blame for the spread of disease lands on the humans who seem to have rapidly dispersed domesticated pigs around the globe. When transferring any commodity, including animals to a new nation, the responsibility to do so ethically and sanitarily lies on the humans, as the animals have no control over their transportation at this point.
Nonetheless, whether seen as a nuisance or an idol, the cute pig people have come to love affected history in numerous ways easily overlooked. These few examples of pigs and their contact with humans only represent a portion of the many ways in which pigs have impacted history, and a few more will appear later on in this study.