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Pigs and humans: 10,000 years of interaction, edited by U. ALBARELLA, K. DOBNEY, A. ERVYNCK & P. ROWLEY-CONWY
Oxford University Press. 2007. 454pp, 154 figs, 44 tables, hb 978-0-19-920704-6 (85)

Pigs are widespread and economically important; their bones are often abundant in archaeological animal bone samples, and wild boar are native to most of Europe, Asia, North Africa and Indonesia. Despite this, as the editors of this book comment, pigs and wild boar have been rather neglected in the archaeological literature. There have been few attempts at general synthesis; and bone reports tend to say much less about pigs than about sheep or cattle, probably partly because the usual high level of fragmentation and low proportion of adults means that it is harder to look at changes in size and type; and partly because they are seen as less interesting because they provide no secondary products.

This volume—and the workshop that produced it, held in Durham in 2003—is therefore very welcome, as also the very wide-ranging scope of the 20 papers it contains:

  • Part A contains three papers on classic taxonomy (Groves) and molecular taxonomy (Larson et al.; and Andersson);
  • Part B four zoo-archaeological case studies, ranging from the Near East (Grigson) to Japan (Hongo et al.), Scandinavia (Rowley-Conwy & Dobney) and Flanders (Ervynck et al.), a paper on the role of pigs in fishing communities (Masseti), and a review of biometric data and the incidence of linear enamel hypoplasia (Dobney et al.);
  • Part C six methodological papers, including dental microwear (Wilkie et al.), dental pathology (Kierdorf & Kierdorf), age estimation (Carter & Magnell), and the use of measurements (Haber; and Davidowitz & Horwitz), together with a case study on pig remains from a Classical site in Turkey (Vanpoucke, De Cupere & Waelkens);
  • Part D three ethnographic studies from Sardinia and Corsica (Albarella et al.), and Papua New Guinea (Studer & Pillomel; and Sillitoe); and
  • Part E two papers on wild boar in art and ritual in the Eastern Mediterranean (Dalix & Vila), and pigs in European mediaeval iconography (Phillips).

As these reflect the study of pigs and wild boar has made considerable advances over the past 20 years, thanks mostly to the use of new methodological approaches.

The most significant advance has been work on mitochondrial DNA summarised in Chapter 2 by Larson et al., which has given us a much improved understanding of pig and wild boar relationships and taxonomy, with strong evidence that pigs were independently domesticated in the Near East, Europe, China, South East Asia, and very probably elsewhere as well. This is an area where further rapid advance is likely. Work on variation in the Y chromosome will add information about paternal line relationships, which, as for cattle in Africa, is likely to add further insights. Also, now that we have a reasonably strong understanding of modern mtDNA and relationships, work on ancient pig and wild boar DNA is likely to be very interesting—allowing us to test, for instance, the suggestion that the first domestic pigs in Europe were introduced from the Near East and only later replaced by locally-domesticated stock.

Several of the papers consider differences between samples in the incidence of linear enamel hypoplasias. These are growth arrests in the enamel of the teeth that allow comparisons of the frequency and timing of stress events in different populations; they are generally commoner in pigs than in wild boar. This method produces results which are sometimes contradictory and hard to interpret, and hard to deal with statistically, but which are likely to be very informative once we understand them better.

Significant advances are also being made in the use of measurements in fragmentary and juvenile material: molars, in particular, provide good samples of measurements which do not change with age even from samples which are mainly juveniles.

Some of the papers lack a clear question, some lack clear conclusions, and data and data treatment are sometimes problematic, as also the general lack of statistical tests. There is however much that is of interest and value in this book—new methodological approaches, interesting case studies, particular points of interest like the beach-foraging pigs of Komodo, and a very comprehensive bibliography. A specialist will find much that is useful here; and a student much to think about. But as is often the case with books that result from the proceedings of a conference, a general reader is likely to struggle to find a coherent structure and narrative.

Sebastian Payne
English Heritage

Review submitted: November 2008

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

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