Wednesday, April 27, 2005

News: Pigs from Insular Southeast Asia

A new article from the March 11 edition of Science suggests multiple
origin of pig domestication after an initial dispersal of wild boar from
insular Southeast Asia (ISEA):

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences from 686 wild and domestic pig specimens place the origin of wild boar in island Southeast Asia (ISEA), where they dispersed across Eurasia.

(Greger Larson et al.: "Worldwide Phylogeography of Wild Boar Reveals Multiple Centers of Pig Domestication")

It is interesting, though, that of the four wild boar species -- Sus scrofa, Sus celebensis, Sus barbatus,sv, and Sus verrucosus -- only Sus scrofa, the domesticated variety made out of ISEA.

This might suggest that Sus scrofa was carried out of ISEA as a captive, tamed or domesticated animal by humans. Torsten Pedersen, on various forums, has noted Proto-Austronesian *beRek "pig" and Proto-IndoEuropean *pork'- (also Gothic barg-s***, Latin
aper, German Eber "boar").

Could non-ISEA wild boar actually be feral animals as has recently been discovered with the dingo, formerly thought of as a wild dog? In this regard, Torsten has mentioned the European practice of letting pig herds feed themselves in the forest.

With regard to the dispersion of the domesticated pig, the model suggested by the article matches that theorized by Torsten much earlier for the diffusion of the *beRek related words:

"... and phylogenetic analyses were performed using Bayesian Monte Carlo-Markov chain (MCMC) and median-joining networks. The consensus tree shows that the basal lineage of Sus Scrofa occur in western island Southest Asia (ISEA). An initial dispersal from this area into the Indian subcontinent was followed by subsequent radiations into East Asia and a final, progressive spread across Eurasia into Western Europe."

*** Note from Torsten:

Gothic 'barg-s' (-s is the nominative marker) means "verschnittenes Schwein", ie. gelded pig, not "boar"; I might have been imprecise. In PIE 'barg-' would have been *bhorgh- or *bhork-; this is obviously similar to *pork'-, but there is no way in IE to bridge the gap (no known rules) between /bh/ and /p/ or /gh'/ and /k'/, although a good number of such variants (between voiced aspirated and unvoiced unaspirated stops) exist in the PIE roots as traditionally reconstructed; however the variants are systematically accounted for in Møller's attempt at finding common forms for IE and Semitic (and play a prominent part). Therefore I find it reasonable to assume that *bhorgh- and *pork- is the same root, if that root was a loan.

Also, Latin 'aper', German 'eber' "boar" is probably related to the *(H-)p/bh-r/l- "across the river" root; Benveniste (in Indo-European Language and Society) wrote an article on the meaning of the two IE roots *pork'- and *su- "swine", whether they meant young and old, or wild and domesticated swine, respectively. "Coming from the other side" would be an appropriate name for a non-domesticated swine in a society where duality was pervasive and linked to the two banks of a river.

The full abstract can be found appended below. To find the full text of the article minus graphics, visit this URL:

Science. 2005 Mar 11;307(5715):1618-21.

Worldwide phylogeography of wild boar reveals multiple centers of pig domestication.

Larson G, Dobney K, Albarella U, Fang M, Matisoo-Smith E, Robins J, Lowden S, Finlayson H, Brand T, Willerslev E, Rowley-Conwy P, Andersson L, Cooper A.

Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre, University of Oxford, Department of Zoology, South Parks Road OX1 3PS, UK.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences from 686 wild and domestic pig specimens place the origin of wild boar in island Southeast Asia (ISEA), where they dispersed across Eurasia. Previous morphological and genetic evidence suggested pig domestication took place in a limited number of locations (principally the Near East and Far East). In contrast, new genetic data reveal multiple centers of domestication across Eurasia and that European, rather than Near Eastern, wild boar are the principal source of modern European domestic pigs.

Paul Kekai Manansala