Like a pig out of water: seaborne spread of domestic pigs in Southern Italy and Sardinia during the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Southern Italy has a long history of human occupation and passage of different cultures since the Early Holocene. Repeated, ancient introductions of pigs in several geographic areas in Europe make it difficult to understand pig translocation and domestication in Italy. The archeozoological record may provide fundamental information on this, hence shedding light on peopling and on trading among different ancient cultures in the Mediterranean. Yet, because of the scanty nature of the fossil record, ancient remains from human-associated animals are somewhat rare. Fortunately, ancient DNA analysis as applied to domestic species proved to be a powerful tool in revealing human migrations. Herein, we analyzed 80-bp fragment of mitochondrial DNA control region from 27 Sus scrofa ancient samples retrieved from Southern Italian and Sardinian archeological sites, spanning in age from the Mesolithic to the Roman period. Our results surprisingly indicate the presence of the Near Eastern haplotype Y1 on both Italy's major islands (Sardinia and Sicily) during the Bronze Age, suggesting the seaborne transportation of domestic pigs by humans at least during 1600-1300 BC. The presence of the Italian E2 clade in domestic contexts shows that the indigenous wild boar was effectively domesticated or incorporated into domestic stocks in Southern Italy during the Bronze Age, although the E2 haplotype has never been found in modern domestic breeds. Pigs belonging to the endemic E2 clade were thus traded between the Peninsula and Sardinia by the end of the second millennium BC and this genetic signature is still detected in Sardinian feral pigs.