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Boars to Pigs: How Pigs were Domesticated


(a wild boar and her piglet)


We recently posted a fetal pig dissection video (which you can check out here), where we explained the various anatomical and physiological features of a fetal pig. However, did you know that the pigs we know of now, arose as a result of domestication, and not evolution? In this article, I will explain to you how humans essentially “created” pigs.


First let’s define the term 'domestication.' When humans made the shift from hunting & foraging to farming ~12,000 years ago, they tamed/cultivated many species of plants and animals from nature, so that these plants/animals would better serve their needs in farming. Such process of taming/cultivating animals & plants from the wild is called domestication. Pigs were one of the first animals to be domesticated, and they were primarily raised as food. As such, pork remains the most widely consumed meat worldwide to this date. Adding onto that, domestic pigs also have uses in the pharmaceutical industry. Pigs are the source of 20+ drugs, and special types of pigs (called transgenic pigs) provide humans with heart valve transplants and possibly entire organs in the future.


So what species of animal were pigs domesticated from, where did the domestication happen, when did the domestication happen, and how? Although there are many species of wild hogs existing in the world today, only Sus scrofa (wild boar) has been domesticated, and thus all domestic pics in the world are in some way derived from Sus scrofa. Researchers agree that there were two distinct domestication events (one in China, and one in Europe) from the geographically separated forms of the wild boar. Despite the location however, both domestication events followed the basic steps of local hunter-gatherers hunting wild boars, then over time transitioning into raising the animals instead, keeping the boars with better behaviors and smaller brains.


In China, domestication of pigs dates back to ~6600 BC, at the Neolithic Jihau site in east-central China [between the Yangtze & Yellow rivers]. Ever since the first instances of domestication, pigs became the main domesticated animal of China, so much so that the Chinese character for “family” or “home” consists of a pig inside a house. Pig domestication in China took place over a timespan of ~5,000 years, where farmers initially herded pigs, but later (by the Han dynasty) transitioned into using household pens & enclosures.


In Europe, domestic pigs arose as a result of a combination of two processes– the domestication of wild boars by European Mesolithic hunters, as well as the introduction of domestic pigs through the LBK migrations. (The LBK migrations was when central Asian people moved to Europe, bringing along with them their domesticated plants/animals) Researchers agree that the European domestic pig would have resulted from a series of complex interactions between Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and LBK farmers.


The next time you look at a pig, know that there is an amazing historical story behind how that pig came to be.




Sources:

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/08/taming-pig-took-some-wild-turns

https://www.thoughtco.com/the-domestication-of-pigs-170665

https://theconversation.com/how-did-wild-boar-become-farmyard-pigs-genetic-data-reveals-the-answer-46907


Photo credit: https://www.futurity.org/pigs-wild-boars-dna-2135182-2/




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