Max Price: Pork, Prohibitions and Power: A Short Cultural History of the Pig in the Ancient Near East

As with many other animals in society, pigs have occupied an ambiguous status throughout human history. On the one hand, we are highly dependent on them because of their importance as both a domesticated creature and a source of food; on the other, they are reviled even to the extent that in the Abrahamic religions it is considered sacrilegious to eat pork. The pork taboo as expressed in Leviticus has been a constant source of fascination to anthropologists, as well as scholars of religion, and various explanations have been put forward for how and why this taboo came into existence in early Mesopotamian civilisations.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Max Price, a postdoctoral fellow at Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in Germany, to discuss the pork taboo in the context of the cultural history of the pig in the ancient Near East. We explore the uniqueness of the pig as a domesticated animal; the reasons for pig domestication; and the origins of and reasons for the pig taboo. Towards the end of the programme, we also touch on the continuing significance of pigs in Middle Eastern societies today. Max is also contracted with Oxford University Press to write a book dealing with these issues from 1 million years ago to the present, which will certainly be worth looking out for in the near future!

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Albarella, U., K. Dobney, A. Ervynck, and P. Rowley-Conwy (eds.) (2007) Pigs and Humans: 10,000 Years of Interaction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Diener, P. and E.E. Robkin (1978) ‘Ecology, Evolution, and the Search for Cultural Origins: The Question of Islamic Pig Prohibition’, Current Anthropology 19: 493-540.

Essig, M. (2015) Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig. New York: Basic Books.

Hessler, P. (2014) ‘Letters from Cairo: Tales of the Trash’, The New Yorker October 13, 2014.

Ottoni, C. et al. (2012) ‘Pig Domestication and Human-Mediated Dispersal in Western Eurasia Revealed through Ancient DNA and Geometric Morphometrics’, Molecular biology and evolution: mss261.