Bacon: a Danish tradition for 7,000 years

Bacon, it seems, has been a Danish tradition for 7,000 years according to an article in LiveScience.

Ancient hunter-gatherers in Europe, whose meat intake was once limited to wild game, may have enjoyed bacon, ham, pork chops and other tasty bites from pigs they owned starting about 7,000 years ago, researchers say.

The scientists analyzed the ancient DNA from the bones and teeth of 63 pigs in northern Germany from a Mesolithic site known as Ertebølle and a number of Neolithic sites. They found that as early as 4600 B.C., the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers owned pigs that had both near-Eastern and European ancestry, which means they were domestic swine as opposed to wild boar.

The Ertebølle culture, I learned thanks to Wikipedia, existed in Denmark, Southern Sweden and a bit of Northern Germany. And, reading a little more I found out that Ertebølle was named for a site in the Limfjord region of Jutland, an area yours truly claims as the origin of his father’s side of the family. According to family stories a great-great-great-great uncle immigrated to Central Nebraska and started a pig farm in the late 1800s. Three nephews followed him to work for their uncle with his pig farm. So, pig farming was not just a way to put more meat in the diet but a great way of getting a new start in the New World. Danes, pigs, bacon, Nebraska, … it all comes together. Wikipedia says that the Ertebølle culture fed primarily on seafood. Given my general distaste for seafood (other than salmon, tuna, shrimp and a couple other things) I can see why these ancient Danes were looking for a change in their diet and started domesticating swine.

Back to the LiveScience article,

“We address a long-standing debate in archaeology that has implications beyond northern Germany,” researcher Almut Nebel, a molecular geneticist at Christian-Albrechts University, told LiveScience. “Our multidisciplinary approach can also be used to obtain information on cultural contact — for example, between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists — for other areas of Europe and the world.”

Genetic analysis revealed the domestic pigs had colorful coats and spots that likely would have seemed exotic and strange to the hunter-gatherers and may have attracted them to the swine.

“Humans love novelty, and though hunter-gatherers exploited wild boar, it would have been hard not to be fascinated by the strange-looking, spotted pigs owned by farmers living nearby,” researcher Greger Larson at Durham University in England, said in a statement. “It should come as no surprise that the hunter-gatherers acquired some [of the pigs] eventually, but this study shows that they did very soon after the domestic pigs arrived in northern Europe.”

Scientists are not sure whether the hunter-gatherers procured the pigs via trade or by capturing escaped animals. Still, given the close proximity of these two groups and how they occasionally exchanged artifacts, the researchers suspect trade for pigs was a more likely scenario than hunting of escaped domestic pigs, Krause-Kyora told LiveScience.

About Mike
A resident of the “30 square miles surrounded by reality,” I spend most of my time teaching economics and statistics to undergraduate students. I enjoy, naturally, economics and business, but also science (I was once an astronomical observatory assistant), politics, photography, food, travel and sports. Madison has grown quite a bit since 1978 when Governor Lee Dreyfus made that remark. According to Wikipedia, Madison is 67.3 square miles of land and 16 square miles of water. Visit for one of my favorite views of the isthmus. Or, why not come visit us!

One Response to Bacon: a Danish tradition for 7,000 years

  1. Brenda says:


%d bloggers like this: