PIGS, PEOPLE & THE NEOLITHISATION OF EUROPE

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: Archaeology

Abstract

The invention and spread of farming around the world was perhaps one of the most important events in human history. Its consequences were drastic and far reaching, and it continues to shape our own existence today and in the future. Despite many years of study, archaeologists and biologists still have little idea of why, where or even how it occurred, and what were its early consequences for humankind. It is one of the principal keys to understanding human civilization and, at the same time, provides an ideal model to study evolutionary change. Despite decades of research in this field, fundamental questions about the biological and cultural processes involved in the origins and spread of early farming remain largely unresolved. The bones of early domestic animals and their wild ancestors are commonly dug up from archaeological sites and they hold important clues to many of the unanswered questions. New scientific techniques, which can explore ancient genetic signals from these ancient bones, are now beginning to provide unique insights into the biology of the domestication process itself, as well as new ways of tracking its spread as farmers moved into new areas. It is clear that agriculture was introduced to Europe by the earliest farmers moving from the Near East where it began. It spread from East to west over 6,500 years, with different Neolithic cultures moving through and occupying different regions. With the farmers moved their domestic animals and plants. However, Europe was not an empty landscape. It was already occupied by human groups, who for thousands of years had survived through hunting and gathering. Also present in Europe were some of the same wild animal species that people in the Near East had already domesticated (for example pigs and cattle). The nature of the interaction between the early farmers, indigenous hunters and the new environments they encountered is something we don't fully understand and is something we aim to explore in this major research project. We plan to ask several simple questions: Can we use these early introduced domesticated animals (in this case pigs which we have already studied in detail) to track the specific routes taken by early farmers through Europe? Can we see if wild boar in Europe were then domesticated? We will use two different methods to study ancient pig remains from Neolithic sites. Both methods focus on pig teeth, as teeth are not only the best preserved element in an archaeological context, but also the most reliable portion of the skeleton for determining wild or domestic status. We will firstly employ geometric morphometrics, a sophisticated shape analysis technique that assesses dental shapes and can tell us about the degree of domestication, as well as the relatedness of different individuals. Secondly, we will extract DNA from the teeth, which, when compared with DNA from modern specimens, can inform our understanding of evolutionary relationships and geographic origins of domestic pigs. By contrasting the data from both the tooth shape and genetic analyses, and by employing traditional archaeological methods we will not only answer questions related to origins and dispersal routes, but also glean insights into other aspects of human dispersal and pig domestication. For example, we will be able to answer whether independent pig domestication events from different wild ancestors are reflected in the shape of the pig's teeth. The data will allow us to assess the process by which pig domestication took place by firstly identifying which cultures domesticated pigs; and secondly by identifying the degree to which trade/movement of domestic pigs influenced possible subsequent domestications of other regional wild boar. Answering these questions will provide insights into the way humans acquired domesticated animals, the bedrock upon which modern civilization has been built.

Publications


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
NE/F003382/1 01/04/2008 31/03/2009 £519,702
NE/F003382/2 Transfer NE/F003382/1 01/04/2009 30/09/2011 £374,383
 
Description Our research group's work principally focuses upon human-animal relationships - specifically animal domestication and the spread of Neolithic culture across the globe; the use of domestic and commensal animals to reconstruct human and animal dispersal history, the evolutionary history of islands the study of animal health in the past and its application to understanding early domestication.

In this project we have undertaken the largest and most comprehensive study of a domestic animal (the pig) ever attempted. As a result we have produced novel evidence for: 1) the origins and processes of its domestication and (using the same domestic animal as a proxy) refined our knowledge of the dispersal of Neolithic farmers from the near East into Europe.

Our results draw heavily on novel techniques implemented (some for the first time) in zooarchaeology.
Exploitation Route These embrace diverse topics, with impact and significance beyond the field of archaeology.

Our group has developed a successful research model that combines genetic and novel morphometric approaches with direct dating. We the first to do this successfully and it is now becoming a model for similar projects run by colleagues around the world.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
URL http://domestication.org.uk
 
Description The research described has had considerable impact through a wide range of TV and radio programmes, raising public awareness and understanding of the history of domestic animals - and what it reveals about human colonisation history - in Britain and abroad. Through these and other engagements, the research has contributed to culture and quality of life, as well as enabling economic impacts through film and book sales.
First Year Of Impact 2008
Sector Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal
 
Description AHRC GCRF Large Grant
Amount £850,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/P009018/1 
Organisation Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 
Sector Multiple
Country Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China
Start 02/2017 
End 06/2017
 
Description Co-Reach (Social Sciences Call)
Amount € 150,685 (EUR)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 09/2009 
End 02/2013
 
Description European Research Council Starting Investigator Award
Amount € 1,500,000 (EUR)
Funding ID ERC-2013-StG 337574-UNDEAD 
Organisation European Research Council (ERC) 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 02/2014 
End 02/2019
 
Description National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre Catalysis Meeting
Amount $30,000 (USD)
Organisation National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre (NESCent) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United States of America
Start 04/2011 
End 04/2011
 
Description Oxford University Fell Fund
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 143/108 
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 12/2015 
End 12/2016
 
Description Research Project Grant
Amount € 300,000 (EUR)
Organisation National Agency for Research (Agence Nationale de la Recherche) 
Sector Public
Country France, French Republic
Start 09/2013 
End 08/2016
 
Description Standard Grant
Amount £880,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/N004558/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 04/2017 
End 04/2020
 
Description Being Human 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 1,000 people attended a multi-hour and multi-activity event at the Natural History Museum in Oxford associated with the Being Human event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Media and public interest (Pacific colonisation history) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The "Lapita Voyage"involved a six-month sailing voyage on a reconstructed Polynesian catamaran undertaken in Nov 08-April 09. It followed the migration routes of ancient Austronesian settlers from Island S.E Asia into West Polynesia. Dobney and Larson were invited to join five of the participating scientists because of their research expertise in this area. During the voyage, unique hair and feather samples were collected of domestic animals for genetic analyses.

The voyage was accompanied by a film crew, who produced a feature-length documentary for German public broadcaster ZDF. Wagnis in der Südsee: Das Rätsel der Polynesier was first broadcast in 2010, repeated in July 2013 and is still available for online viewing [9]. A 2011 popular book, by German expedition leader Klaus Hympendahl, sold several thousand copies in Europe by June 2013, with sales revenues estimated to be between €50-100,000. The paperback edition was published in May 2013. [10]
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2010,2011,2013
URL http://www.lapita-voyage.org/en/lapita_voyage_konzept.html
 
Description Media and public interest (domestication studies) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our research group's animal domestication and migration research have regularly featured as news items in the international print media, as well as in news articles by (for example) Nature and Science. Subsequent coverage by broadcast media - included BBC radio and television in the UK - as well as documentaries featured on French, German and US television.

Dobney discussed his findings twice on BBC Radio 4's flagship science programme, Material World in June 2010, to explain how his findings on pigs have shed new light on how humans colonised islands in the Pacific; and in June 2013, to discuss the challenges and wider importance of new DNA sequences from a horse dating back more than 700,000 years. As part of Radio 4's programme offer, Material World has a reach of nearly 11 million listeners, according to June 2013 Rajar figures.

Dobney and colleagues in Durham also acted as consultants for the six-part BBC2 Horizon series, The Secret Life of the Dog, broadcast in January 2010 and repeated in October 2012. Drawing on their research, the group advised the programme makers on early evidence of the domestication of dogs. The series was reviewed in The Guardian newspaper and on online fora such as channelhopping.onthebox.com, both of which called it "fascinating". On YouTube, part 1 alone had attracted over 35,000 views by the end of July 2013. The series was also shown in Australia (latest repeat September 2011) and on the BBC HD Channel (October 2012).

Another BBC2 documentary, A History of Ancient Britain (series 1, part 2), drew on our research into commensal rodents (February 2012). The programme examined the story of how the first farmers arrived in Britain from Europe in 4000BC.

A National Geographic programme, How Man Tamed the Wild, also relied on our research, using information supplied to programme makers and featuring an interview. The programme was broadcast on the National Geographic and History Channel in November 2010.

The Discovery Channel featured the group's research in a documentary entitled Prehistoric Dog Domestication Derailed by the Ice Age (July 2011). Viewer feedback from the programmes above revealed both a widespread fascination with the subject matter, and a particular interest among people with a professional connection, such as dog breeders and farmers.

Our research has also featured In newspapers, such as Aberdeen's The Press and Journal (May 2010), which focused on the research into pigs in South East Asia; and on a range of news programmes and outlets, including BBC North East Scotland (May 2012) and NBC News (July 2011).

In addition, several large scientific news pieces regarding our domestication work have appeared in Science (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/348/6232.cover-expansion and http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/01/were-cats-domesticated-more-once) - the former making the front cover (17th April 2015). An additional major news article on our dog domestication work (taking the research model based on our earlier research on pigs) appeared in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/19/science/the-big-search-to-find-out-where-dogs-come-from.html?_r=0).


The research described has had considerable impact through a wide range of TV and radio programmes, raising public awareness and understanding of the history of domestic animals - and what it reveals about human colonisation history - in Britain and abroad.

After appearing on Radio 4 programmes, each of these appearances, Dobney received 40-60 direct audience responses.
Through these and other engagements, the research has contributed to culture and quality of life, as well as enabling eco
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012,2013,2014
 
Description Presidential session (Anth and Arch section) British Science Festival 2012 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Keith Dobney was invited to undertake the role of President of the Anthropology and Archaeology Section at the British Science festival held in Aberdeen in 2012. He organised the Section's Presidential Session, entitled "The Northern Past, that included lectures, workshops, press conferences and other activities including field-trips" for the public.

Stimulated much media and public interest in our archaeological research in 'The North.' Media follow-up resulted in a number of print articles in the local and National press.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/british-science-festival/about-festival