History of Pigs and People

In the 19th century, a young girl led her father, the amateur archaeologist
Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, to a cave near the Spanish town of Santillana del
Mar. There, on the cavern walls and ceilings, was an astonishing series of
paintings depicting the animals known to Cro-Magnon humanity, including wild
boars. Uranium-thorium dating of the pigments in these cave drawings lead
some scientists to estimate that the images were 25,000 to 30,000 years old.
Indeed, few animals have had longer and more extensive relationship with
humans than pigs, which were among the first animals to be domesticated.

The earliest domesticated pigs, which descended from Eurasian wild boars, probably
occurred in Central Asia about 10,000 years ago. By 5000 B.C., the practice of
keeping pigs was widespread, and Emperor Fo Hi wrote the first book on raising
pigs in 3468 B.C., the same year he is thought to have also penned the traditional
book of prophecy, the I-Ching. Zhou period tombs from ancient China (1121–
221 B.C.) often included pigs carved from precious stones, thought to ensure the
deceased prosperity in the afterlife.

In Europe, it is estimated that pigs were first domesticated around 5000 B.C.,
and the animal played an important role in much of the history and mythology of
the continent. In the Aeneid, Virgil claimed that in the 6th century B.C. Aeneas
saw a vision of a “sacred white sow,” the female pig indicating the place on the
Tiber River that should be the site of Rome. Pork was the favorite meat of the
Romans, who considered cows to be beasts of burden and did not often eat veal
or beef. In Petronius’ Trimalchio’s Banquet, roast boar with dates was the
centerpiece of the feast, and such dishes were a central part of the wealthy
Roman diet. If, as Napoleon said, “an army marches on its stomach,” the Roman
Empire would be built upon a foundation of bacon, as its legions were rationed
with pork, grain, and wine; additionally, the boar was sacred to Mars, the Roman
god of war.

Among the Celts, the boar was seen as a symbol of fertility, power, and
prosperity, and the animal was sacred to the goddess of the hunt, Arduinna. The
bones and joints of pigs have been discovered buried in Celtic tombs, suggesting
the importance of these animals in their culture. The Druids referred to
themselves as boars and emulated the animals’solitary forest existence.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the importance of pigs to the developing agrarian
economy grew steadily, and the boar appears in many examples of heraldry.
In 1493, Christopher Columbus arrived on the island that would come to be
known as Puerto Rico with eight pigs that Queen Isabella had ordered him to
bring. Almost 50 years later, Hernando de Soto landed in Florida with a small
herd of pigs that would grow to many hundreds in just a few years.

De Soto and other Spanish explorers offered some of these animals to the indigenous peoples
as a token of goodwill, and numbers of them escaped into the wild and became
the ancestors of the razorbacks and feral pigs of the southern United States.
Sir Walter Raleigh brought a number of sows to the Jamestown colony in 1607,
and although the settlers endured a great deal of hardship, they were to be the
first permanent English establishment in the New World. Over the course of the
next century, pigs were to become a staple throughout the colonies because of
their natural adaptability and utility.

As pioneers moved west, they brought pigs with them in their wagon trains, and
soon large herds were to be found across the settled regions. In the War of 1812,
salt pork was shipped to American troops in barrels stamped “U.S.” Although
the “U.S.” stood for the meat packer “Uncle” Samuel Wilson, soldiers coined the
term “Uncle Sam,” one of America’s most widely recognized patriotic symbols.
Throughout the history of the United States, the importance of hogs to the
nation’s economy has continued to grow, along with the relationship between
pigs and politics. In the 19th century, the term “pork barrel politics” was coined
to describe actions undertaken by politicians to solely benefit their
constituencies. The “pork barrel” was a container that held lard or salt pork, and
keeping it well supplied was a matter of constant concern for the average

In 1961, pigs broke into the financial markets when the Chicago Mercantile
Exchange began trading pork belly futures contracts as an innovative risk
management device for meat packers; because frozen pork bellies can be kept in
cold storage for extended periods, they can be held in inventory and sold when
market prices meet the sellers’ needs. Pigs are no less important elsewhere in the
world; today, every continent has a pig population, except Antarctica

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