This little piggy…


The budding archaeologists at Bulmer Primary School, who took part in our recent excavations at Goldingham Hall, have been in touch with ACA for an update on the pig discovered in trench A, and we thought that we’d take the opportunity to update you all on what we think so far.

It’s definitely a female domestic pig. The snout is not long enough to be a wild boar, but it’s longer than modern domestic pigs. Some of the bones are unfused, which means that it hadn’t reached its full adult size and was under 3 years old when it died. However, the teeth are very worn down and there are some signs of arthritis in the spine. It must have had a very tough life, and would have had difficulty eating. This is speculation at the moment, but it’s possible that it may have died from malnutrition or been killed because it was struggling physically, although why this was the case for a relatively young pig is difficult to say.

The pig didn’t seem to have any association with the ovens found in the same trench. If they were contemporary or later in date, we would have expected the ditch where the pig was buried to also have contained the black ash. This makes us think that the pig was buried before the High Medieval ovens, and going by the pottery found in a couple of the other similar ditches in that trench, we think it could be Late Anglo-Saxon (10th-12th Century). We will look into the funding for a radiocarbon date of the bones, which will give us a more reliable date.

The really unusual thing about the pig was that it was buried complete. Pigs were bred as a source of food, and it would have been wasteful to have discarded the whole animal. Faunal remains specialist, Jess Rippengal, is doing some research to see if she can find any other examples which could shed some light on whether ours is a buried pig or a pig burial. The latter implies a deliberate decision to slaughter the animal and some care and attention in putting it in the ground. Our pig certainly seemed to be carefully put in on its side, rather than thrown into the ditch. Some archaeologists have a tendency to categorise anything they can’t explain as ‘ritual’, but in this case, there is definitely something odd and intriguing about it.

The next steps are to excavate the pelvis and back legs which are still in situ, have all of the bones fully examined by an expert in faunal remains, scour the literature for comparitive examples, and send a sample for radiocarbon dating. Ultimately, we may not be able to shed much more light on the pig unless we go back to do some more digging of the ditch in which it was found to understand the chronology of the site and the spatial relationship between the pig and other features in proximity.

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