August 27, 2013

European hunter-gatherers acquired pigs with Near Eastern and European mtDNA

This is a nice demonstration of transfer of domesticated animals from Neolithic farmers to European hunter-gatherers. (Red=European, Yellow=Near Eastern).

Related: Ottoni et al. (2012).

Nature Communications 4, Article number: 2348 doi:10.1038/ncomms3348

Use of domesticated pigs by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in northwestern Europe

Ben Krause-Kyora et al.

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.



eurologist said...

Very nice paper.

One interesting question is whether the Ertebølle folks routinely traded for young domesticated pigs to raise them to slaughter age, or whether they were more like a novelty food. Interestingly, since at least the Bronze Age, for cattle it was the opposite: young calfs, surplus no longer needed for local milk production, were driven south from Jutland to all over Friesland for using the ample grasslands, there. Of course, one has to keep in mind that the Ertebølle area mostly had very poor soils, but access to very rich maritime resources, on the other hand.

Protection from the elements in the winter was likely minimal, so Northern European pig admixture would have been a highly likely ingredient for survival, anyway.

Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Domestic pigs often escape and breed with wild ones, even today. It seems to me that hunter-gatherers could hunt the result of this process. So are they trading for these pigs, raising them, or just doing what they had always been doing and hunting pigs in the woods? Maybe we can't tell from the evidence that we have?

Katharós said...

Kind of reminds me of voyaging sailors who left a pair of pigs on every island as a source of meat.
I am not familiar with the behavior of domestic pigs. But if they stay half way stationary, wandering hunters and gathers could have scheduled their resource way-points more reliable, instead of going after a more dangerous pack of wild boars.

terryt said...

"But if they stay half way stationary, wandering hunters and gathers could have scheduled their resource way-points more reliable"

They don't actually stay very 'stationary' at all. Wild pigs are common in many New Zealand forests, both as wild bred and domestic escapes. And hunting them is quite hard work, usually requiring dogs. On islands of course pigs cannot move very far and soon strip resources and are easily found. Hence 'voyaging sailors who left a pair of pigs on every island' were quite onto it.

Fanty said...

"Kind of reminds me of voyaging sailors who left a pair of pigs on every island as a source of meat."

Or Goats.

I know of 2 historical novels and 1 real story, in wich shipwrecked Europeans survive by eating goats, wich had been put on the island by sailors.

Treasure Island: Ben Gun survives by feeding on goats put on the island by sailors.

Robinson Crusoe: Robinson feeds on goats, put there by sailors. Strange that in all the 26 years he is on the island, nobody comes there to get the meat.

True story: Alexander Selkirk feeds on goats put on his island by sailors. (He was interviewed by Daniel Defoe before he wrote "Robinson Crusoe". Many things Alexander did, went into the novel)