Those of us who enjoy our streaky bacon and pork tenderloin may take for granted that pigs were not always a farmed animal breed. Indeed, the ‘domestic pig’ - those farmed primarily for food consumption – have a long history going back thousands of years, starting with the wild boar and finishing with the pig breeds we know and love today.
Pork chops, pork pie, pork sausage and countless pork recipes that are so fundamental to our food tradition would not exist without the domestic pig, whose origin is fascinating in that it occurred in several independent phases across the globe.
Archaeological and DNA studies suggest that the modern domestic pig (Sus scrofa domesticus) was domesticated in the Near East from the wild boar around 10,000 years ago. A separate domestication event took place in China around 8,000 years ago. But how did the domestic pig arrive in Europe?
Although wild boars are known to have existed in Europe, they were not domesticated until farmers from the Near East brought their own domesticated pigs to Europe, where they bred with European wild boars to produce the domesticated European pig from which our current pig breeds derive.
Though mean-tempered, wild boars were relatively easy to domesticate due to their adaptable diet. Over time, desirable traits such as tameness, shorter snouts and smaller tusks were bred into early domesticated pigs. Later, pigs were bread for other traits, such as size and hairlessness.
The history of the domestic pig is fascinating in that it not only tells the story of the modern day pig, it also tells a tale of Europe’s own farming history. The introduction of pigs offers clues as to when farmers came to Europe, bringing their livestock and methods with them. Pork is now one of the most popular foods in the world, and so next time you tuck into a succulent roast pork shoulder or tenderloin steak, it’s worth appreciating that these pork recipes would not exist were it not for our Near East neighbours and the domestic pigs they travelled with.