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New research led by archaeologists at Cardiff University has showcased “globally unparalleled” evidence of a unique prehistoric pork-focused feasting practice in South Wales.

After 10 years of excavation and research, analysis of animal bones deposited in a ‘midden’ or rubbish heap at a prehistoric feasting site in Llanmaes, Vale of Glamorgan, has revealed the novel custom of mass feasting focused specifically on pigs’ right forequarters.

The research – a collaboration between the University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion and National Museum Wales – has provided extraordinary insights into the lives of Wales’ prehistoric ancestors.

Published this week in archaeology journal Antiquity, the research details results from the analysis of more than 70,000 fragments bone – the largest collection of prehistoric animal bones ever discovered in Wales.

This, the researchers say, is a remarkably rare survival in a country where the acid nature of soils normally means the loss of this evidence of past ways of life.

Equally significant is the discovery that the majority of the pig bones were from just one quarter of the animal – the right forequarter – suggesting a selective feasting pattern.

Biomolecular analysis of teeth and bones has also demonstrated that many of the pigs were not locally-raised and may have been brought to the site from a substantial distance away, a monumental feat in prehistoric Britain.

Using the latest scientific methods, university osteoarchaeologist Dr Madgwick helped reconstruct these ceremonial feasts, which drew people and their animals from the locality and beyond to engage in conspicuous consumption on a grand scale.

The research was undertaken by Dr Madgwick, a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow, and co-author Dr Jacqui Mulville, Reader in Bioarchaeology, in partnership with Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, which led the research excavations.

Dr Madgwick said: “Surprisingly, nearly 80% of the animal remains at Llanmaes were from pigs, at a time when sheep and cattle were the main food animals and pork was not a favoured meat. What is perhaps more remarkable is that the majority of the pig bones were from just one quarter of the animal – the right forequarter. It might be that each household had to donate the same cut of meat to be included in the feast – that way everyone would have to slaughter a pig in honour of the feast.

“This selective pattern of feasting principally on just one quarter of one species is genuinely globally unparalleled and particularly startling as it continued over a period of centuries during the Iron Age.”

Dr Madgwick believes these tightly-controlled practices would have had a role to play in community cohesion.

He added: “The Early Iron Age communities of South Wales and beyond would have been small and dispersed, but these feasts would have represented a time of solidarity, when people came together to feast on pig right forequarters, just as their fathers and their fathers’ fathers had done.”

Adam Gwilt, Principal Curator for Prehistory at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, and one of the museum co-directors of the project added: “Middens speak not just of the everyday and filled bellies, but also about the ways of thinking and being, the customs, values and beliefs of the time. Communal feasting connected distant parts of Atlantic Europe during the later Bronze Age, offering opportunities for expressing and negotiating power relations, maintaining and binding contacts, alliances and exchanges.”

The research is ongoing and Dr Madgwick is currently undertaking further scientific analysis to reveal seasonal patterns of feasting and the methods of cooking and food preparation used.

animal remains

 

Original Article:

cardiff.ac.uk

 

 

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About 6,600 years ago the Ertebølle Mesolithic hunter-gatherers acquired domesticated pigs whose black-spotted coat might have looked similar to that of this modern-day Bentheimer pig.

Topic: Hunter-gatherers domesticated pigs

Ancient hunter-gatherers in Europe, whose meat intake was once limited to wild game, may have enjoyed bacon, ham, pork chops and other tasty bites from pigs they owned starting about 7,000 years ago, researchers say.

The new findings suggest these hunter-gatherers had domesticated pigs about 500 years earlier than previously thought, yielding new insights into the movements and interactions of prehistoric humans and the exchange of technologies and knowledge, scientists said.

The first humans in Europe were Neanderthals, an early human lineage that may have gone extinct there some 50,000 years ago. Their successors in Europe, modern humans, were hunter-gatherers that by the Mesolithic, or middle period of the Stone Age,were focused heavily on collecting and hunting wild game. [The 10 Biggest Mysteries of the First Humans]

Later on, incoming Neolithic or New Stone Age farmers who migrated to Europe from the south between 5500 B.C. and 4200 B.C. owned domestic plants and animals, such as sheep, goats, cattle and swine. Past research found that Mesolithic and Neolithic communities long co-existed.

Some communication apparently occurred between the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and the Neolithic farmers, as suggested by pottery and other tool finds. However, the scale of the interaction and the extent to which hunter-gatherers took ideas from their neighbors remains hotly debated.

Until now, there was only circumstantial evidence of Mesolithic hunter-gatherer ownership of domestic animals other than dogs in continental Europe.

“Mesolithic hunter-gatherers definitely had dogs, but they did not practice agriculture and did not have pigs, sheep, goats or cows, all of which were introduced to Europe with incoming farmers [in] about 6000 B.C.,” researcher Ben Krause-Kyora, an archaeologist and biochemist at Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany, said in a statement. “Having people who practiced a very different survival strategy nearby must have been odd, and we know now that the hunter-gathers possessed some of the farmers’ domesticated pigs.”

The scientists analyzed the ancient DNA from the bones and teeth of 63 pigs in northern Germany from a Mesolithic site known as Ertebølle and a number of Neolithic sites. They found that as early as 4600 B.C., the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers owned pigs that had both near-Eastern and European ancestry, which means they were domestic swine as opposed to wild boar.

“We address a long-standing debate in archaeology that has implications beyond northern Germany,” researcher Almut Nebel, a molecular geneticist at Christian-Albrechts University, told LiveScience. “Our multidisciplinary approach can also be used to obtain information on cultural contact — for example, between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists — for other areas of Europe and the world.”

Genetic analysis revealed the domestic pigs had colorful coats and spots that likely would have seemed exotic and strange to the hunter-gatherers and may have attracted them to the swine.

“Humans love novelty, and though hunter-gatherers exploited wild boar, it would have been hard not to be fascinated by the strange-looking, spotted pigs owned by farmers living nearby,” researcher Greger Larson at Durham University in England, said in a statement. “It should come as no surprise that the hunter-gatherers acquired some [of the pigs] eventually, but this study shows that they did very soon after the domestic pigs arrived in northern Europe.”

Scientists are not sure whether the hunter-gatherers procured the pigs via trade or by capturing escaped animals. Still, given the close proximity of these two groups and how they occasionally exchanged artifacts, the researchers suspect trade for pigs was a more likely scenario than hunting of escaped domestic pigs, Krause-Kyora told LiveScience.

The scientists detailed their findings in the Aug. 27 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Original article:
livescience.com

By Charles Choi, LiveScience Contributor | August 27, 2013

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