Though some Europeans were still hunter-gatherers in 4,600 BC, there was interaction between the hunter-gatherer and farming communities and a 'sharing' of animals and knowledge  which led to acquisition of domesticated pigs from nearby farmers, according to new evidence. 

The movements of pre-historic humans and the transition of technologies and knowledge was always blurry and the evidence shows the interaction between the two groups eventually led to the hunter-gatherers incorporating farming and breeding of livestock into their culture. The spread of plants and animals throughout Europe between 6,000 and 4,000 BC involved a complex interplay between indigenous Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and incoming Neolithic farmers but the scale of the interaction and the extent to which hunter-gatherers took ideas from their neighbors remains debated.

The researchers say previous evidence about the ownership of domestic animals by hunter-gatherers has so far been circumstantial.

The phylogenetic network based on haplogroups determined by the 80-bp-long diagnostic control region fragment of mtDNA. The phylogenetic network was constructed using the program Network45. The size of the circles is proportional to the number of individuals in each haplogroup—numbers are shown in the circles. Distances between the circles correspond to the number of mutations (positions indicated by red numbers) between the haplotypes. Credit and link: 

Lead author, Dr Ben Krause-Kyora, from Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany, said, "Mesolithic hunter-gatherers definitely had dogs, but they did not practice agriculture and did not have pigs, sheep, goats, or cows, all of which were introduced to Europe with incoming farmers about 6000 BC. Having people who practiced a very different survival strategy nearby must have been odd, and we know now that the hunter-gathers possessed some of the farmers' domesticated pigs."

It is not yet known whether the hunter-gatherers received the pigs via trade or exchange, or by hunting and capturing escaped animals. However, the domestic pigs had different colored and spotted coats that would have seemed strange and exotic to the hunter-gatherers and may have attracted them to the pigs.

Co-author, Dr Greger Larson, from the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, added, "Humans love novelty, and though hunter-gatherers exploited wild boar, it would have been hard not to be fascinated by the strange-looking spotted pigs owned by farmers living nearby. It should come as no surprise that the hunter-gatherers acquired some eventually, but this study shows that they did very soon after the domestic pigs arrived in northern Europe."

The team analyzed the ancient DNA from the bones and teeth of 63 pigs from Northern Germany which showed that the hunter-gatherers acquired domestic pigs of varying size and coat color that had both Near Eastern and European ancestry.

Citation: Ben Krause-Kyora Cheryl Makarewicz Allowen Evin Linus Girdland Flink Keith Dobney Greger Larson Sönke Hartz Stefan Schreiber Claus von Carnap-Bornheim Nicole von Wurmb-Schwark Almut Nebel, 'Use of domesticated pigs by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in northwestern Europe', Nature Communications
27 August 2013