A Brief History of Pigs: From Domestication to Present Day

Photo: niromaks via Getty Images

Pigs are arguably one of the most fascinating four-legged creatures in the animal kingdom.


Okay, I may be a little enthusiastic right now. But, you’ve got to admit, they are a very interesting breed.

Pigs are a mammal of the family Suidae. There are many different breeds of pigs, but all have common characteristics. They are omnivorous, which means that they eat both plants and meat. They are also incredibly versatile, capable of living in a wide variety of climates and terrains. 

Both the Quran and the Old Testament of the Holy Bible forbid the consumption of swine. Yet, domesticated pigs were an accepted source of food in Eurasia as far back as 7000 BC.

The Introduction of an Interesting Species

Photo: Barbara Cerovsek via Getty Images

The domestication of pigs is a long, complex and largely debated process that many believe began in Eurasia before eventually spreading to other continents.

Some experts believe that pigs were domesticated in China around 7000 BC. However, other experts believe that pigs were first domesticated in Europe or the Near East. The first evidence of domesticated pigs comes from the Neolithic site of Kfar HaHoresh in Israel. The site dates back to 9000 BC and contains the remains of a house with a pen for pigs.

Wild boars are ancestor to the modern pig. And while it is possible that the people at Kfar HaHoresh were domesticating pigs from wild boars, another possibility is that they were importing domesticated pigs from other parts of the world.

Pigs are known for their meat, but they were also used as transportation animals and for their fat, or lard, which was used in lamps and cosmetics. While some evidence suggests that pigs may have been brought over by humans as early as 12,000 BC, the first undisputed evidence of pigs on other continents comes from the Middle East around 6000 BC. From there, pigs spread to North Africa around 5000 BC, Europe around 4000 BC, and South America around 2000 BC.

It is believed that pigs were introduced to Cuba and North America by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.

Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering America in 1492, but he’s also believed to be at least partly responsible for the proliferation of swine. 

Some researchers believe that Columbus may have introduced Eurasian boars, or feral boars, to the New World.

It is said that Christopher Columbus brought pigs to the Americas on his second voyage. Spanish explorers brought pigs with them to eat on their long expeditions, and many of these pigs were left in America, where the population grew and grew over time. Hernando de Soto is often credited as the father of the American hog industry, as the explorer carried out extended adventures in the southeast United States.

However, there is other evidence that suggests pigs may have been present in America long before the Europeans arrived. Some scientists believe that pigs were brought over by the Vikings in the 1000s, and there are also reports of feral boars living in the wilds of North America prior to the arrival of Columbus.

The first known record of pigs on the continent of Australia comes from 1770, when Spanish sailors brought them as foodstock. At first, they were kept on farms as farm animals, but eventually they began to be bred for their meat. Today, pigs are raised on many farms in Australia and are a major part of the Australian agricultural industry.

From Wild Boar to Pig to Wild Boar

Pigs are fascinating creatures.

Wild Eurasian boars were domesticated and transported to nearly every corner of the known world.

As we’ve discussed, there is much debate surrounding when exactly pigs were first brought over to North America by humans, the first undisputed evidence of pigs on the continent dates back to 12,000 BC. Native Americans were known to have raised pigs in small numbers, using them mostly for sustenance and religious ceremonies. However, it was not until the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 1500s that pork began to be commercially farmed on a large scale.

Many of these pigs would escape the farms and make their way back into the wild.

Interestingly enough, while most domesticated animals cannot survive when reintroduced to the wild, pigs are extremely adaptable creatures. When reintroduced to their natural habitat, pigs turn into wild boars, often called feral swine. They grow hair, thicker skin and even tusks!

The reason for this is unknown, but it is an interesting phenomenon that researchers are still trying to understand.


Domestic Pig Soft Stuffed Plush Toy


Gage Beasley's Domestic Pig Soft Stuffed Plush Toy

From Prey to Predator

But, as interesting as this may be, it poses quite the risk.

The reason is that wild boars are not nearly as amicable as their domesticated brethren. These creatures are infamous for their destruction of farmland, crops and the like. And this threat is exacerbated by the fact that swine are capable of  reproducing at an alarming rate.

They can breed when they are as young as three months old, and can have six to eight piglets in each litter.

In America, for example, Feral hog populations numbering in the millions are surging across the southern part of the United States, wreaking havoc. Texas, in an effort to control the invasive and destructive species, wild hogs are hunted year-round without limitations to kill or capture them for slaughter, after which they are sold to restaurants as specialty meat. Helicopters are commonly employed to kill off countless numbers more.

To make matters worse, wild boar can stockpile parasites that can cause human diseases. Wild boars serve as a source of many dangerous infectious diseases in animals, such as classical swine fever, brucellosis and trichinellosis, and in humans, diseases such as hepatitis E, tuberculosis, leptospirosis and trichinellosis. Cluster cases of hepatitis E have been observed in Japan, as well as an outbreak of trichinellosis in Canada, where the consumption of wild boar meat is more prevalent.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, pigs have a long and interesting history. They are an important part of many cultures and continue to play a significant role in the modern world. Pigs are intelligent animals that are capable of forming close bonds with their handlers. They are also versatile, providing meat, milk, and fiber. Pigs are a valuable asset to any farm or homestead and make great pets.

And while the inconvenience of wild boar may be very real to some, it still doesn’t take away from the countless benefits these animals have provided humanity over the centuries.



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