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stone age domesticated pigs

Stone Age Hunters Brought Home the Bacon

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New research published in the journal Nature Communications has suggested that Stone Age hunter-gatherers in Europe may have been trading pigs with settled farmers as early as 5,000 BC. It is the first evidence of live animal trading between the indigenous, nomadic Ertebolle hunters of northern Europe and settled farmers who originally came from Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Evidence for the trade in pig came from an analysis of DNA from pig remains found at different Ertebolle settlements. They found the swine had maternal ancestors from the Middle East, like the domestic pigs of their farmer neighbours on the other side of the Elbe River, which runs through central Europe.

The hunter-gatherers normally ate seals and wild boar found on the western Baltic coast, while the farmers cultivated crops and livestock south of the river. However, the latest study shows that they also acquired domestic pig.

"It is unclear why the Ertebolle sought domestic pigs, both large and small pigs with multicolored coats would likely have seemed strange and exotic compared with the more familiar appearance of the locally available wild boar they traditionally hunted," the team reported. It is possible that they simply wanted to supplement their hauls of wild boar. However, their acquisition of pigs didn’t immediately alter the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. They continued hunting for hundreds of years after they started raising a few domestic pigs, before finally settling down to farm full-time.

The study indicates that not only were domestic pigs present in the region some 500 years earlier than previously thought, but it is the first actual evidence that the hunter-gatherers had access to any domestic animals other than dogs.

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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