Pigs

Pork was an important source of food for the Celts (chapter 2) and, because of this, there is abundant evidence for the sacrifice of pigs to the gods. Pig rituals fall into two groups: the first where the animal was slaughtered but not eaten and was buried as a gift to the supernatural powers; the second where pigs were butchered and the pork either was placed as a food-offering to the dead or was consumed in a ritual feast.

Both types of pig remains occur in Celtic graves. In Gaulish cemeteries there is considerable evidence that pigs were favoured above other meat. There are also indications that certain cuts of pork were chosen for particular graves or cemeteries. Most distinctive of all is that in very many sepulchral contexts, age was an important factor and that the choice was for young animals, between birth and 2 years old. So in many instances, the optimum time to slaughter for meat (at the achievement of maturity) was ignored and a deliberate choice was made to kill the sacrificial pigs before this time.

Figure 5.12 Late Iron Age bronze boar or pig figurine, Hounslow, Middlesex. Paul Jenkins.

The Iron Age cemetery of Tartigny contained five graves, each with a different selection of animal deposits. Pigs were the most frequent here, and definite evidence for food preparation and feasting was present: often the carcases had been split in two. There was evidence of a systematic method of ritual deposition: legs were without their extremities; spinal columns were most common; and the heads had been split to extract brain and tongue. Each grave possessed different deposits: in one there were only fragments of vertebra; in another, a 7-month-old piglet had been skinned and split in two; in a third grave, twelve fragments of spinal columns belonging to five individuals had been buried, together with part of a sow.106

In the cemeteries of the Ardennes region, pigs were a central feature of the funerary ritual, both as offerings to the dead and the gods and as part of the funerary banquet. The meat-offerings to the dead at Acy-Romance were once again from young animals. The same age preference was observed at Rouliers and Mont Troté. Here there were many juveniles but, interestingly, no boars. Both these cemeteries showed evidence of a curious rite, in which pigs were buried each with only one foot attached. At

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Rouliers, there is a suggestion that pigs accompanied the male burials, sheep the females.

Other Gaulish cemeteries displayed similar emphasis on pig ritual:

changes through time, between the third century BC and the Romano-Celtic period, are discernible at

Epiais-Rhus, and pork seems to have supplanted other meat as ritual offerings in later periods.

Sometimes pigs are represented by just one bone, reflecting the offering of a single joint of pork to the dead: but heads, ribs and vertebrae were split to extract nourishment and are evocative of meals taken at the grave side. Filleting and food preparation took place at the cemetery of Allonville (Somme), where

mandibles and bits of split skull were buried after a ritual banquet.

Uneaten joints, offerings to the dead or to the gods, could be represented in graves either as single, modest pieces of meat or as partial, articulated skeletons, the latter indicating that the portions were deposited relatively fresh.109 Joints of pork were placed near the heads of corpses in graves of people buried in Dorset in the late Iron Age,110 as if in readiness for consumption by the deceased. Many chariot-burials, both in the Marne area of eastern France, like La Gorge Meillet, or in Britain, as at Garton Slack, contained pork joints.111 One Yorkshire woman was buried clasping part of a pig in her arms. But the cart-burials at Soissons contained entire pigs, horses and other domestic animals who, uneaten, accompanied their lord to the Otherworld, to continue their service to him there.

Apart from graves, there is substantial evidence that pigs were sacrificed, sometimes consumed in ritual feasts where the spirits and humans were linked in convivial ceremonies. Pork was the favourite meat in most Gaulish sanctuaries: again, as with graves, the preference was for the young animal. Thus 112

at Gournay young pigs and lambs were butchered, cooked and devoured; at Mirebeau pigs and cattle were killed young; and at Ribemont at the beginning of maturity (at about 2 years old or slightly younger). At this shrine, the males were slaughtered at an earlier age than the sows, who were mostly 3 or more years of age at death. Choice of cut was equally significant in the sanctuaries: at Ribemont, people preferred the meat of the spine, chest and head; at Digeon the succulent upper limb portions were selected.113

British sanctuaries show some evidence for pig sacrifice: the late Iron Age shrine at Hayling Island (Hants) yielded large quantities of pig and sheep bones in the faunal assemblage.114 One of the alleged late Iron Age shrines at South Cadbury (Som.) is associated with an avenue of burials of young pigs, calves and lambs.115 The Romano-Celtic temple at Hockwold (Norfolk) had been built with the four columns of the cella (inner sanctum) resting in pits each containing pig and bird bones.116 The inference is that these animal remains formed part of a foundation ritual, in which appeasement-offerings were made to the local gods where the shrine was built. The burial of a young boar at Chelmsford may

similarly have been a foundation-offering.

Pigs form a significant proportion of the animals buried as deposits in Celtic pits. The offerings at

Argentomagus consisted mainly of pig; and a complete young pig was interred in a pit at Chartres. 'Special deposits' in British pits also contain pigs, which may be partial, complete or multiple. The body of a pig deliberately covered with lumps of chalk was found at Chinnor (Oxon.).— Two pigs and a dog come from a pit at Twywell (Northants); at Winklebury (Hants) a pig and a raven were interred together; at Danebury, a pig and two calves were together in one pit, while in another were deposited two pigs and 120

a horse. At Danebury, pigs seem to have been especially important during the middle period of

occupation (400-200 BC), whilst elsewhere^1 pig bones are particularly common in pits belonging to the Roman period.

Why were pigs so important in sacrificial ritual? One answer is that these animals were a favourite source of food for the Celts: thus it would be a genuine act of propitiation to share with the gods something valued in economic terms. Secondly, there may have been some fertility symbolism specifically associated with pigs. Farrowing sows produce large litters, which perhaps gave rise to imagery of general fecundity and prosperity. Pigs certainly are linked with fertility in some cultures:

among some Nuba peoples of the Sudan the bones of pigs protect granaries, and it is considered wise to keep the skulls of slaughtered pigs in the belief that this will ensure a continuing supply of these animals. In a Tosari burial at Jebel Kawerma, a human body was interred wrapped in a pigskin. This may have been a regenerative rite, to ensure the rebirth of the dead individual in the spirit world.

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