New insights into pig taxonomy, domestication and human dispersal in Island South East Asia: molar shape analysis of Sus remains from Niah Caves, Sarawak

T. Cucchi, M. Fujita, Keith Dobney

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67 Citations (Scopus)


Despite the almost ubiquitous presence of Holocene Sus remains in Island South East Asia (ISEA), the domestication of pigs and their dispersal in this region remains somewhat confused. Using molar shape geometric morphometric analysis, archaeological Sus dental series from the Sarawak caves of Niah (Aceramic, Neolithic) and Lobang Kudih (Ming period), are compared with extant ISEA wild pigs to establish their taxonomic status and to further explore the evidence for local domestication or introduction of allochthonous populations. Results on modern data-sets show that outline analysis of the third lower molar achieves highly significant inter- and intra-specific differentiation among ISEA wild pigs, with a phenotypic divergence structure displaying congruence with molecular phylogenies. Both tooth shape and mtDNA evidence strongly suggest the so-called wild pigs of New Guinea to be the descendants of pigs domesticated in mainland South East Asia and introduced by early farmers to ISEA. None of our data provide clear evidence for a Neolithic introduction of domesticated pigs, or for the local domestication of indigenous bearded pigs, since all Aceramic and Neolithic pigs from Niah cave have been identified as indigenous bearded pig (Sus barbatus). Local domestication experiments by foragers have not been ruled out, since evidence of hypoplasia as a marker of domestication processes has been observed. Introduction of allochthonous domestic pigs between the Late Neolithic and the Metal Age is suggested, since this small domestic breed from Lobang Kudih cave displays strong phenetic relationships with S. scrota of New Guinea, recognised by molecular phylogeography as part of the 'Pacific Clade' linked both with Lapita and Polynesian dispersals. Introduction of celebensis-like species has also been suggested. Future studies should incorporate broader time-scale and geographical framework data-sets to strengthen these assumptions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)508-530
Number of pages23
JournalInternational journal of osteoarchaeology
Issue number4
Early online date6 Jun 2008
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009


  • Neolithic
  • Island South East Asia
  • geometric morphometrics
  • zooarchaeology
  • teeth
  • Elliptic Fourier transform
  • 1st upper molar
  • house mouse
  • marmots marmota
  • Canary Islands
  • evolution
  • rodents
  • paleophylogeography
  • phylogeny
  • Oceania
  • enamel


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