Where do pigs come from?
The first pigs evolved in Southeast Asia from earlier, smaller mammals, about two million years ago, and spread out from there all over Eurasia and Africa.
Wild pigs live in forests, especially where there are oak trees that make acorns, because pigs like to eat acorns. People first met pigs before they left Africa; they cooperated with dogs and used spears and nets to hunt wild pigs in the forest.
We call male wild pigs boars. Wild boars are very dangerous to hunt. They are big and smart and they have long sharp tusks and teeth. Probably men hunted them mainly in order to look cool and impress girls. But also, bacon.
It is much safer to domesticate pigs and have them tame, although even tame pigs can still be very dangerous (still, people are more dangerous to pigs than pigs are to people!).
People first began to keep tame pigs about 10000 BC, in Central Asia. From Central Asia, tame pigs spread slowly east to China and Vietnam (by around 2000 BC), and south-west to West Asia and North Africa.
Pigs in Europe
People also tamed pigs separately in Europe, maybe about the same time. In central Europe (what’s now southern Germany and Austria), people combined their pigs with the salt from the big salt mines there and got really good at preserving pig meat by making it into hams and bacon and sausages.
Pigs were a very popular source of food all through antiquity, from West Asia all the way west to to England and east to China, from Scandinavia to North Africa. Pigs care for themselves pretty independently, and they will eat apple cores and rotten meat and peapods, so you can feed them on garbage. Pig meat’s easy to preserve with salt, and bacon and ham are delicious, fatty, salty foods.
Video of a pig
Egyptian taboo on eating pork
But from at least 1500 BC, Egyptian people seem to have thought that pigs were kind of yucky, something only poor people would eat. Possibly as a result of Egyptians conquering them during the New Kingdom, most Semitic people in West Asia, including not only most Jews but also other people like the Phoenicians and the Arabs, would not eat pig meat. The Bible says that Jews should not eat pig meat. Further south in India, too, most people did not eat pig meat.
The Philistines and the Romans
That would have been another reason why the Jews didn’t like the Philistines – they kept pigs. Probably the Hellenistic Greeks and the Romans, too, when they conquered Israel, brought European pigs with them.
Christians decide to eat pork
The earliest Christians, who lived in Israel, like the Jews did not eat pork, but by about 50 AD many Christians came from places where people did eat pork, like Greece, and the Christians decided that this rule did not apply to them.
Islam and pork
So pigs became much less common around the Mediterranean and in West Asia after about 700 AD, and they are still very uncommon today. But in Europe and in China, where people were Christian or Buddhist or Taoist and not Muslim, pigs remained very common.
Pigs in the Americas
There were no pigs in the Americas before European settlers came to the Americas in the 1400s AD. They brought pigs with them. Pork became part of Mexican food and Native American food and South American food. But when the tame pigs escaped, there weren’t any natural enemies to eat them. Today, there are a lot of feral pigs – wild pigs descended from tame pigs – all over the American West and the South.