The Ethnoarchaeology of pig husbandry in Sardinia and Corsica - Ecology & Evolution
Much has been made of the potential incompatibility of free-range pig husbandry and agricultural activities but the Corsican and Sardinian herders, whose pigs can roam as freely as is potentially possible for these animals, do not, however, perceive this as a major problem. In Corsica a simple device, such as the use of iron wire in the pig snout, makes these animals no more harmful to cultivated crops than sheep. In Sardinia this is less commonly used particularly in areas where pigs pasture on common land (mainly plateau), which is mostly devoid of cultivated areas.
Social structure and movements
The keeping of pigs and other livestock has been key to the shaping of the social organisation of villages in central Sardinian regions, such as Barbagia, Supramonte and Ogliastra. Before paved roads were built and cars became widespread, herders spent most of the week taking care of their animals in highland pastures and would only occasionally go back to the village to spend time with their families. The shepherds slept in mountain huts called pinnetti wheras the animals could find refuge in small shelters known as sarule. The needs of the animals determined the pace and timing of human life and activities. In addition to these weekly or monthly small range movements, there was in the past a seasonal transhumance of pigs. In summer the plateau offered too few food resources even for these adaptable animals and pigs would therefore be moved down to lowland areas where they could feed on stubble soon after the harvest. The swineherds paid the farmers a small fee for this service. A typical transhumant route took the animals from the highlands of Barbagia and Ogliastra to the Campidano valley. Some people became specialised in this service and would collect – for a fee – pigs from several breeders to drive them to the Campidano. The view of pig herds made of hundreds of even thousands of animals moving from one region to the other of Sardinia must have been stunning.
The two islands are currently undergoing a phase of rapid transition, which makes them ideal laboratories for the study of economic change. Much of the reasoning of modern Sardinian and Corsican breeders echoes the questions and dilemmas of livestock producers at the onset of the 16th and 17th centuries in central and northern Europe. Traditional practices and unimproved breeds are gradually disappearing, as breeders face the increasing demands of market forces. The local unimproved breeds do not seem to be particularly productive, but they have distinct advantages deriving from centuries of adaptation to the local environment. They are sturdy, resilient and immune to many local diseases and mostly able to care for themselves. We hope that this work can help to raise awareness of the importance of traditional husbandry practices for the preservation of valuable environmental, social and historical aspects of the Mediterranean world.