Journal of Archaeological Research

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 325–368 | Cite as

The Pig and the Chicken in the Middle East: Modeling Human Subsistence Behavior in the Archaeological Record Using Historical and Animal Husbandry Data



The role of the pig in the subsistence system of the Middle East has a long and, in some cases, poorly understood history. It is a common domesticated animal in earlier archaeological sites throughout the Middle East. Sometime in the first millennium, BC pig use declined, and subsequently it became prohibited in large areas of the Middle East. The pig is an excellent source of protein, but because of low mobility and high water needs, it is difficult to move long distances. While common in sites, the pig is rarely mentioned in texts. In contrast, the use of cattle, sheep, and goats is extensively documented. In the human subsistence system of the arid and semiarid areas of the Middle East, the pig was a household-based protein resource that was not of interest to the central authority. Sometime in the late second or first millennium BC, the chicken was introduced into the Middle East. The chicken is an even more ideal household-based protein resource and, like the pig, is rarely mentioned in texts. In arid and semiarid areas of the Middle East, the pig and the chicken compete for food and labor in the human subsistence system. I hypothesize that in arid and semiarid areas of the Middle East, the chicken largely replaced the pig because the chicken is a more efficient source of protein, it produces a secondary product, the egg, and it is a smaller package; hence, a family can consume one in a day or two. This made the pig redundant and available for use in other human systems. The pig, however, never disappeared from the diet of humans in the Middle East.


Pig Food prohibition Chicken Human subsistence Middle East Egypt 



I thank Mindy Zeder, Richard Thomas, Robert Whallon, and Henry Wright for reading early versions of this paper and providing me with many useful suggestions. Alexis Redding read three drafts and provided me with editorial comments. I thank the four anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggested references. Veerle Linseele also reviewed the submitted manuscript and provided extensive comments and a number of references. Ali Witsel drafted the four figures. I also would like to thank the journal editors. As always, any errors and omissions are entirely the fault of the author.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kelsey Museum of ArchaeologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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