Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 4, Page 10
Summer 1994
10,000-year-old pig probably earliest domesticated animal

     That's "Some Pig" that University of Delaware archaeologist
Michael Rosenberg discovered in the highlands of eastern Turkey. Not
the plump, pleasing piglet of E.B. White's children's classic, this
semi-feral pig is more than 10,000 years old and may represent the
earliest domesticated animal found in a sedentary society.
     Rosenberg and his team have been excavating an early Neolithic
site at Hallan Cemi, Turkey, for more than three years, under grants
from the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society
and the University of Delaware Research Foundation and with the
assistance of Mobil Oil.
     Destined to be flooded in 1995 by a dam on the Batman River, the
salvage project at this site has revealed a hitherto unknown complex
society replete with a rich material culture, including decorated
stone bowls, stone sculptures and notched stone tallies. Freshwater
clam shells indicate that the mountain site was occupied year round
and evidence of long distance trade in obsidian, copper and
Mediterranean shell fish exists, but the team did not find the
expected domesticated goats and sheep and cereals. Instead the
researchers found gathered nuts and seeds and the butchered remains of
domesticated pigs.
     At the Society for American Archaeologists meeting in April, the
team-which includes zooarchaeologist Richard Redding of the University
of Michigan and paleobotanist Mark Nesbitt of University College
London-reported on the lack of wild cereals and the presence of pigs,
suggesting that the site points to a different, possibly transitional,
stage in human progression from foraging to farming.
     "All early agricultural models are predicated on the assumption
that people gathered wild wheat and other grains, but this is the
earliest settled site so far north and it has no cereals. So another
resource must have made it possible to settle down," says Rosenberg,
who has been excavating Paleolithic and Neolithic sites in Turkey and
Iran since the 1970s. The Hallan Cemi site, identified in 1990 in a
joint survey project with the Diyarbakir Museum, was radio-carbon
dated just older than 10,000 years.
     Rosenberg and his team believe the pattern of food production in
this region known as southeastern Anatolia is different from that
which developed further south in the Levant. Sedentism here, they say,
may have developed without the intensive use of cereals.
     This complex society, which dates from the end of the ice age,
gathered, hunted and maintained pigs to reduce dietary risk, Rosenberg
and Redding say. Based on charred plant remains and flotation
analysis, Nesbitt says wild grasses, nuts and woody fruits were
identified, but no wild barley or wheat grains were found.
     "The site is pre-agricultural, but the people are sedentary. If
they are constrained in their territory and no longer move about,
their way of life is riskier," Rosenberg says. "We think they fiddled
around with maintaining animals to decrease that risk, and pigs make
sense if they are not yet gathering or growing grains."
     According to Redding, pigs are most suited to the role of risk
reduction for several reasons. They are the most efficient
domesticated animal, he writes, in that they convert 35 percent of
food energy into meat, compared to 13 percent for sheep or a mere 6.5
percent for cattle. Moreover, pigs require little labor to control
because they can be left to forage, and the young are easily obtained
and tamed.
     "Once a population gets into cereals, they have to ditch the
pigs, which compete with humans for grains, and go to goats and sheep.
These animals can be herded far away from the crops," says Rosenberg.
"Our discovery that pigs were probably first makes eminent sense."
     The bone sample from Hallan Cemi analyzed to date included more
than 22,000 specimens recovered, of which 3,300 were identifiable.
Researchers know that domesticated animals have smaller molars, and
young, male animals are often killed first. Survivorship patterns of
hunted animals reveal a more normal age distribution. Although the
results are not yet absolutely conclusive, according to Redding, all
the evidence in each criteria are "congruent with the early phases of
the domestication of pigs."
                                                        -Cornelia Weil