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[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #50: Boar, Wild

May 13, 2022

In 2022, I am continuing to blog an A-Z compendium of human interactions with species in the British landscape. A list of references for information used in this series can be found here.

Boar, Wild

Sus scrofa Linnaeus, 1758

A wild boar standing in grass
Wild boar. Image by Jerzy Strzelecki -CC BY_SA 4.0

The wild ancestor of domestic pigs, wild boars were present in Britain from 13 to 11 thousand years ago (although they were also present during a warm interglacial period c.60 thousand years ago), and in Ireland from around 9.2 thousand years ago, and alongside red deer and aurochs they were one of the three most common game species in the Mesolithic. Work by Umberto Albarella shows that the Mesolithic wild boar were somewhat smaller than modern boars, and also smaller than their Danish contemporaries. Boars became extinct in Britain and Ireland in the 13th or 14th century, although escapees from boar farms in southern England during the 1980s and 1990s established a new viable population, and attempts had been made at reintroductions for hunting between the 13th and 17th centuries. Various nouns of congregation are applied to boars: commonly they have been known as a sounder, herd, or singular of boars

As well as the animals being hunted for meat, boar bones were used as raw materials. Boar tusks were worked into points, and have been found in Neolithic contexts such as at West Kennet chambered tomb. Two boar tusks were among the items buried alongside a man in a Middle Neolithic grave at Liff’s Low in Derbyshire, and boar tusks were buried alongside a number of Early Bronze Age cremations at Bulford Stone in Wiltshire. 

Depictions of boars feature in Iron Age and Romano-British art, such as the bronze boar’s head escutcheon from near Caerwent in south Wales, and a boar figurine from the Gower.

Sus scrofa scans on Morphosource

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