Book Note on ‘Ancestors for the Pigs: Taxonomy and Phylogeny of the Genus Sus’ by Colin Groves

21st May 2014

‘Ancestors for the Pigs: Taxonomy and Phylogeny of the Genus Sus’ by Colin Groves. 1981, Technical Bulletin Number 3, Department of Prehistory, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University, vii + 96 pp.

Book Note by Tim Flannery

One of the ‘hot’ topics at present in Australasian prehistory is that concerning the origins of human domesticates and commensals. An understanding of this topic can provide critical clues as to the nature of the human society that co-existed with the animals, as well as the timing of their arrival, the nature of their original habitat, and the extent and direction of trade. Groves’ work, while not directly addressing these questions, is a very rich vein indeed for archaeologists interested in them. It is a purely taxonomic work, but avoids the yawn that such tomes usually produce because it is so well, and indeed so humorously written. It provides in detail primary data regarding the pigs studies, and gives an excellent review of the relationships of pigs in general. Groves’ finding that the pigs of New Guinea represent a hybrid race is fascinating. Unfortunately, I have not yet heard of archaeologists incorporating this finding into their analyses of human movements in Melanesia.

Finally, it must be said that pigs are not everybody’s cup of tea, and few have toiled so mightily to unravel the taxonomy of such a difficult and unattractive group. Groves begins his account of the peculiar bearded pig of Borneo with the Shakespearian couplet:

Lord worshipped might he be
What a beard hast thou got.
The same might be said of the author of this work…

Incidentally, in my copy at least, the publisher has seen fit to include two pages of the page containing this fine couplet.

Flannery, T.
Book Note on 'Ancestors for the Pigs: Taxonomy and Phylogeny of the Genus Sus’ by Colin Groves
June 1993
36
73–74
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