Our observations of the wild boar will begin in Egypt, where the pig was domesticated early from its indigenous Sus scrofa ancestor. Wild boars were abundant in ancient Egypt, inhabiting the ranges of the Nile Valley, the Faiyum, and the Wadi Natrun 1. In 1912, the last wild boar in Egypt died at the Giza Zoo. To this day, while the domesticated pig is a critical commercial asset, the wild boar remains extinct in Egypt 2. During peak populations, overabundance led to the development of agricultural and economic uses for the wild animal. Ancient Egyptians used boars for treading seeds, due to the perfect holes that their hooves made for planting seeds. This discovery caused the boars to be extensively exploited during planting seasons 3.
Paleolithic and Neolithic Ages
As new scientific discoveries were revealed, the boar inherited additional cultural impact within ancient Egyptian society. Paleolithic and Neolithic fossil sites have turned up significant remains. By Predynastic times evidence shows the boar was widely kept and may have even been worshiped as a pig deity 4. This discovery baffled scientists because there is no evidence of the wild boar in the spectacular Old Kingdom hunting scenes. This is especially strange since the wild boar is a native animal of Egypt. It is believed that the omission is due to the dietary taboo within this region of the world 5.
One exception to this trend appears on a relief from Kagemni's tomb, located in the ancient burial ground of Saqqara. The scene depicts a man grasping an animal snout in his mouth, resembling the tribal technique of feeding the animal premasticated food 6. However, this depiction is somewhat controversial. Some experts believe the animal resembles a dog rather than a boar. James George Frazer, author of the Golden Bough, believes the boar is considered taboo because it was a sacred animal of the Egyptian God Osiris. In ancient Egypt, a boar was sacrificed to the moon and to Osiris. The boar offered up to Osiris was slain in front of house doors and returned to the original owner 7.
Enemy of Osirus
Frazer reveals another possible justification for the Egyptian taboo behind boars. The Egyptian devil, known as Set or Typhon, was an eternal enemy of Osiris. Folklore has it that Typhon took on the form of a boar when he discovered and mangled the body of Osiris. In this context, the annual sacrifice to Osiris can be interpreted as revenge on the hostile animal that slain and/or mangled Osiris 8.
The boar originally roamed free throughout Egypt. This caused the wild animal to be closely associated with the corn-spirit. However, after Osiris' death, the boar was viewed as the god's enemy. This belief is reinforced in folklore when a wild boar wreaks havoc amongst the cornfields, making it an instantaneous enemy of the corn-spirit 9.
- 1 - Parsons, Marie. "Pigs in Ancient Egypt." Tour Egypt, n.d. <link>
- 2 - Hoath, Richard. "Dodging the Bullet: Threatened species are thriving in Iraq's war-torn marshlands." Egypt Today, Mar 2007. <link>
- 3 - Dewey, Tanya. "Sus Scrofa: Wild Boar." University of Michigan: Museum of Zoology, n.d. <link>
- 4 - Hoath, Richard. "Dodging the Bullet: Threatened species are thriving in Iraq's war-torn marshlands." Egypt Today, Mar 2007. <link>
- 5 - Wilkinson, Sir John Gardner. Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians. UK: J. Murray, 1837. <link>
- 6 - Hoath, Richard. "Dodging the Bullet: Threatened species are thriving in Iraq's war-torn marshlands." Egypt Today, Mar 2007. <link>
- 7 - Mackenzie, Donald. Egyptian Myth and Legend. Santa Cruz, CA: Evinity Publishing Inc, 2009. <link>
- 8 - Frazer, Sir James George. The Golden Bough: Killing the God. New York: Macmillan 1900. <link>
- 9 - Frazer, Sir James George. The Golden Bough: Killing the God. New York: Macmillan 1900. <link>