Saturday, 31 July 2004
Blind Alley With An Iron Age Pig
CREDIT: © Heather Simmler-Hall/RivieraWriter.com
WHERE: Scottish Highlands. WHAT: Iron Age Pig. Thumbnail pops-up source page.
Our research for these items often ends in a blind alley, a place Heather Simmler-Hall would no doubt refer to as a cul-de-sac. Heather, by her own description, is "Philly-born, Scottsdale-raised, Minnesota-educated", so after those USA place names, dare we hope "Mancunian-wed" really means in Manchester, England? Since 1998 she has lived in France, dividing her time between Paris and the Riviera. Tough assignments both, but someone has to take the hard jobs!
Her latest gig, using her most prized possession - a French driver's license, was behind the wheel of a bicycle adventure tour sag wagon, following the 2004 Tour de France. Her more usual métier is writing, frequently of the journalistic variety. As part of her engaging pitch for such employment, we found her sample digital picture gallery, replete with today's porcine thumbnail, taken in the Scottish Highlands.
Heather's picture neatly segues us back into research blind alleys. We were on the trail of the Iron Age Pig, but were disappointed to discover that although such a thing does exist, it is a hybrid from crossing a wild boar and a domestic Tamworth pig. Close, but no potato! It seemed fitting that in the picture the dear old sow tries to hide her embarrassment at such shortcomings behind the slats of her pen. Some of the issues in the real and imagined geographies of livestock animals are discussed in a PSYETA [Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] article in the society journal, Vol.6 No.2 1998, by Richard Yarwood and Nick Evans.
The Iron Age in Britain is generally applied to that period from 750BC to 43AD making it enticingly just pre Roman. We found a BBC reality series, filmed around Castell Henllys, which tried to recreate Iron Age life with real participants, and the Butser Ancient Farm open air laboratory. The latter charmingly fessed up to being unsure about Iron Age Pigs: "Both wild and domesticated pigs were held in high esteem by the Celts. Thousands of small bronze figurines of wild boars and pigs have been found from the Iron Age. Undoubtedly their greatest joy was in the hunting and eating of pig. The European wild boar survives and thrives, but alas not in England. In the Iron Age a domesticated version of the wild pig was kept, although we are not sure how."
Archaeozoologists may someday unravel the puzzle, but even a cursory scanning of Graeme Barker's account of the academic struggle with taphonomic biases in the faunal samples (let alone the language) shows how hard this may be. How scant might be the evidence comes from a very readable and well illustrated account of the excavation of an Iron Age well at Breckness Broch, Orkney, Scotland.
If Andy Simmonds  from Oxford Archaeology was accurately reported when speaking to the Thatcham Historical Society, "Also among the bones were pig bones: something Mr Simmonds said generally disappeared from the diet during the Iron Age, perhaps because it was taboo", then we are in deep waters. That view seems directly contradictory to the opinions of Christine Shaw at the Butser Ancient Farm. When we found ourselves checking out the postgraduate research topic to be studied at the University of Durham by Umberto Albarella, 'Zooarchaeology (Pig Domestication and Husbandry)', we knew it was time to stop.
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Jules Laforgue (1860-1887)
"Ah! que la vie est quotidienne."
Oh, what a day-to-day business life is.
'Complainte sur certains ennuis' (1885)