Wild Boars and Humans
Domestication: the earliest domestication of the wild boar is uncertain but it probably came about when men settled down and began farming rather than hunting. Wild boars don't like being herded but they readily take to life in a sty or house. It is likely that pigs were domesticated from local races, so producing domestic pigs of various sizes.
The Chinese pig was domesticated by the first neolithic farmers in about 3,000 B.C. and was descended from the wild Sus vittatus, a fatter, shorter-legged type than the European Sus scrofa. The 'Neapolitan' pig from Italy was said to have been of Siamese ancestry and bred from the Asian pig Sus indicus. Both these pigs were crossed and re-crossed with the native European wild boars. The Siamese pig, or 'tonkey' pig, as it was known, was also introduced into Britain in the eighteenth century together with a variety of other foreign types. All these imported pigs were cross-bred with the European wild boar for nearly a century. The Berkshire pig was the first of the fashionable early breeds and was used to cross-breed with local types to produce many regional strains.
The pig has been bred for its flesh (pork) and its fat. Its bristles have been used for making brushes and the hide for all sorts of leather goods. The bones may be ground up for bone meal fertiliser. However, over the centuries, the domestic pig has been put to quite a few other uses. It has been used for sacrifices; in Roman times, among the armies, there was a strange custom of swearing an oath on a pig or a piglet! Pigs have even been used for pulling carts!
In Ancient Egypt pigs were used for treading in corn, their sharp hoofs making holes of the correct depth for the seed to germinate. Perhaps strangest of all, in medieval England they were trained as pointers and retrievers for illegal hunting in areas like the New Forest. This came about because the commoners, living in the New Forest, were forbidden to keep large dogs - they could only keep dogs capable of passing through King Rufus' Stirrup, an iron stirrup 26.3cm high by 11.3cm across.
Conservation: the wild boar is widespread at the moment, but in Europe it is only found in large areas of forest. It became extinct in Britain during the 17th century, mainly due to hunting and the destruction of its forest habitat. But after hundreds of years they have found their way back into the wild! There are now said to be 500-1000 wild boars in the UK.
The older breeds of domestic pig were much more common a hundred years ago than they are today and they are now classed as 'rare breeds'. Conservationists are doing their best to protect these, not just for nostalgic reasons but as an insurance against the future deterioration of our modern pigs. The 'rare breeds', with their ability to survive on poorer food and in harsher conditions, can be used in breeding programmes to fight against disease and improve the modern pig breeds.
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