Friday, November 8, 2013

Haifa 'Wild Boars' Rugby Logo

As tweeted by Prof. Aren Maeir (@arenmaeir) a few days ago, there is another report on pigs!  Prof. Maeir (Bar Ilan University) is the director of the excavation at Tel Es-Safi/ Gath, one city of the Philistine Pentapolis.

I have twice already commented (here and here) on the importance of pigs for Iron Age archaeology of the southern Levant, particularly with regard to ethnic identity with regard to Philistine or Judean and Israelite sites.  As you can see from the abstract below, the DNA of pigs of the Ancient Near East differ from those found in Europe. However, during the Iron Age there is a transition and archaeologists begin finding European pig DNA.  This strongly suggests to the authors (listed below) that the Sea Peoples, known in the biblical accounts as the Philistines, brought pigs with them when they settled the south-eastern coast of the Mediterranean.

The article, "Ancient DNA and Population Turnover in Southern Levantine Pigs- Signature of the Sea Peoples Migration?" is on, though Prof. Maeir didn't link to it.  The article itself is pretty dense, but there is a very clear chart in which the pig DNA types are shown as very helpful pie charts.  I am very impressed by this type of work, and I can only expect that DNA and zooarchaeology will continue to contribute to our understanding of the past, especially as scientific techniques improve.  

Haplotype frequency comparison between Israel and Anatolia


Near Eastern wild boars possess a characteristic DNA signature. Unexpectedly, wild boars from Israel have the DNA sequences of European wild boars and domestic pigs. To understand how this anomaly evolved, we sequenced DNA from ancient and modern pigs from Israel. Pigs from Late Bronze Age (until ca. 1150 BCE) in Israel shared haplotypes of modern and ancient Near Eastern pigs. European haplotypes became dominant only during the Iron Age (ca. 900 BCE). This raises the possibility that European pigs were brought to the region by the Sea Peoples who migrated to the Levant at that time. Then, a complete genetic turnover took place, most likely because of repeated admixture between local and introduced European domestic pigs that went feral. Severe population bottlenecks likely accelerated this process. Introductions by humans have strongly affected the phylogeography of wild animals, and interpretations of phylogeography based on modern DNA alone should be taken with caution.

Meirav Meiri, Dorothée Huchon, Guy Bar-Oz, Elisabetta Boaretto, Liora Kolska Horwitz, Aren M. Maeir, Lidar Sapir-Hen, Greger Larson, Steve Weiner & Israel Finkelstein

Isaac M. Alderman
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