Central European farmers, but also Danish "hunter-gatherers" had domestic pigs

28 Aug
It’s often difficult to discern in the archaeological record wild boar remains from those of domestic pigs. Luckily archaeogenetics can solve the problem, sometimes producing striking results.
Ben Krause-Kyora et al., Use of domesticated pigs by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in northwestern Europe. Nature Communications 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1038/ncomms3348]


Mesolithic populations throughout Europe used diverse resource exploitation strategies that focused heavily on collecting and hunting wild prey. Between 5500 and 4200 cal BC, agriculturalists migrated into northwestern Europe bringing a suite of Neolithic technologies including domesticated animals. Here we investigate to what extent Mesolithic Ertebølle communities in northern Germany had access to domestic pigs, possibly through contact with neighbouring Neolithic agricultural groups. We employ a multidisciplinary approach, applying sequencing of ancient mitochondrial and nuclear DNA (coat colour-coding gene MC1R) as well as traditional and geometric morphometric (molar size and shape) analyses in Sus specimens from 17 Neolithic and Ertebølle sites. Our data from 63 ancient pig specimens show that Ertebølle hunter-gatherers acquired domestic pigs of varying size and coat colour that had both Near Eastern and European mitochondrial DNA ancestry. Our results also reveal that domestic pigs were present in the region ~500 years earlier than previously demonstrated.

The most striking result is surely not the demonstration of pigs being in Central Europe a few centuries than previously confirmed but that Ertebølle hunter-gatherers of Denmark had them as well, quite radically casting doubt on their status as hunter-gatherers and placing them fully in the Neolithic context, even still rather marginal and peripheral. 
Figure 1: Map depicting the location of the archaeological Sus samples from which mtDNA haplotypes were obtained.
Samples were recovered from Neolithic LBK, post-LBK and Mesolithic Ertebølle sites dated between 5500 and 4000 cal BC. Each symbol corresponds to a single sample (triangle, square and circle). Domestic (triangle) and wild (square) pigs discussed in the text are labelled; circles represent Sus specimens of unknown domestication status. The red colour indicates the European haplotypes C and A, and yellow the Near Eastern haplotypes Y1 and Y2.

7 responses to “Central European farmers, but also Danish "hunter-gatherers" had domestic pigs

  1. eurologist

    August 28, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    "The most striking result is surely not the demonstration of pigs being in Central Europe a few centuries than previously confirmed but that Ertebølle hunter-gatherers of Denmark had them as well, quite radically casting doubt on their status as hunter-gatherers and placing them fully in the Neolithic context, even still rather marginal and peripheral. "My view on that is that they were simply opportunistic. That is, they recognized that pig-raising was one of the easiest ways to make large gains from adapted neolithic practices – without giving up much of their own practices. Of course, there are analogies to NE European cultures, somewhat later.

  2. Maju

    August 28, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    "My view on that is that they were simply opportunistic".Maybe but it's in any case farming (or more exactly "herding"). Notice that small scale farming attached to a more "primitive" economy would not leave tracks easy to discern, and that's why it's often difficult to be sure of when exactly farming begins in areas that are not outright colonized with the full "Neolithic package". I think that the problem applies in general terms to all Atlantic Europe and other areas, where the Neolithic genesis is complex and sometimes quite subtle. "Of course, there are analogies to NE European cultures, somewhat later".I bet you're thinking of Pitted Ware. This would be a different case because they clearly derive from a well developed Neolithic culture (Dniepr-Don). Just that their northern offshoots were to a great extent returned to foraging because of their "frontier" conditions. Foraging with pottery and pigs at the very least, so they were also Neolithic. It's a bit like European fur trappers in the "Wild West": they were usually not farmers as such but their wider cultural context was without doubt. Whatever the case, I think that this really lean the scales in favor of considering Ertebølle a Neolithic culture, even if "transitional" or whatever.

  3. Grey

    August 29, 2013 at 1:45 am

    I think this adds to the idea that jumping from hunter-gatherer to herder (or partial herder) is the easiest transition.

  4. Maju

    August 29, 2013 at 3:29 am

    I would rather think that foragers (in the Danish case largely fishers) would initially adopt those Neolithic advances that they deem useful. That may well include some farming but not easily to the point of becoming the central pillar of the economy but rather "easy crops" that need limited care. Herding can also be quite "enslaving" and in this sense pigs offer the potential of leaving them semi-wild and later hunting them or, alternatively, using them in controlled manner to plough the fields. Goats are also quite versatile, while sheep and cows (and even horses) probably require more attention instead and are therefore less desirable. The practice of leaving goats and pigs in feral state was also used by European sailors in the Age of Discovery as a way to secure food when they returned to such islands. They did not use sheep nor cows, which may not have survived. Just my tentative opinion anyhow.

  5. Joe

    September 16, 2013 at 2:28 am

    There have been some pigmentation taken from pre historic HUMAN remains. oldest i have heard are 6,000 and 5,000 years old in southern Ukraine and Russia from early Indo European Yamna culture. all the German scientists said in June 13 is they had pale skin. Also that they had more dark eyes than average Europeans but i was thinking those areas today have more dark eyes than the rest of Europe.

    The next oldest are 3,800-3,400ybp in south and central Siberia from early Indo Iranian speaking Andronovo culture. They descend from Yamna culture probably from northern Russia. They had pale skin, 2 had light brown-blonde hair one had dark brown another brown. 4 had light eyes 3 had brown eyes. Then there is a bunch of other pigmentation genes from later Indo Iranian speaking cultures in central asia and European Russia going all the way to 400ad. They had consitntley showed mainly light hair and eyes. Which matches up with ancient Roman, Greek, and Chinese writers phsyiscal description of them. also 3,400 and 3,000ybp most likely INdo Iranian speakers mummies in west china tarim basin had red hair. This was actulley a smart way to figure out their origin because we can try to find people today with the same hair color eye color percentages to maybe find out where in Europe they originated.

    when will they do more pigmentation of human remains i think people would be more interested in that and it can be used to find their origins and how they connect with people today. Why are they trying to find genes for lactose intolerance when they can do the same for pigmentation why are they so hestitene to do pigmentation. But since the genes they associate with European pale skin are almost just as popular in other Caucasians of the mid east and north africa actulley that method might not work. And the gene they associated east asian pale skin with does not exist in all pale skinned east asians. If they have the ability to take pigmentation genes at least hair color and eye color from Mesolithic or Paleolithic remains that would be huge it can tell alot.

    • Maju

      September 16, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Hey, Joe: thanks for commenting but you must know that the WordPress blog is so far just a backup of the Blogger one and therefore you may want to repost there, where you may find more conversation:

      I’ve been in doubt about migrating to WP for a year or so but haven’t decided yet. It’s a serious decision that requires some work and has not too clear advantages.

      “when will they do more pigmentation of human remains”

      It’s a matter of budget and also of DNA availability. MtDNA preserves better because it’s already cloned in many organelles inside each cell. Also it is one of the most informative ones. But it’s also a matter of budget and nowadays governments are cutting in research and education with disastrous results.

    • Maju

      September 16, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Also we do not know enough about pigmentation: only blue eyes are reasonably determined by a single gene, all the rest is very confusing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: