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Stone handaxe
THIS small handaxe is one of the most beautiful in the British Museum. It is made from quartz with attractive amethyst banding, a difficult material from which to make tools because it is extremely hard. The toolmaker would have had to hit with considerable force and accuracy to remove flakes. Such a high degree of difficulty makes the thin, symmetrical shape of this piece a masterpiece of the toolmakers’ art.
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Pig basics (part one)
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The sudden disappearance of pigs from the British landscape within living memory was remarkable. They have become no longer a familiar sight — to the extent that many people today are startled at the large size of a fully grown pig.

As recently as the 1950s, outdoor herds had been the norm on every pig farm. In addition, most smallholders reared a few outdoor pigs, and before the Second World War many a cottage dweller still kept the traditional family pig at the end of the garden, fattening it on household scraps, orchard windfalls and vegetable-patch waste, and regarding it almost as a member of the household — apart from its destiny as home-killed, home-cured meat for the table.
In the post-war decades pig farming changed radically and many pigs became hidden from public view, raised on a large scale within purpose-made buildings where highly bred and efficient commercial animals were intensively reared to supply consumers with affordable bacon, pork and sausages.

Pig basics (part one)

Wallowing is a pig's delight.

Pig basics (part one)

A portable farrowing hut for outdoor pigs in the late 1930s.

Pig basics (part one)

In 2008 about 3 per cent of British pigs were defined as 'free- range', living in fields with their mother until slaughter, and 18 per cent were described as 'outdoor-reared': the piglets were born outside and lived outside for 4-12 weeks before being moved into open barns for fattening. Fifty-nine per cent of UK pig production was from indoor- reared piglets, living in groups of 80-100 (often on slatted concrete) until slaughter.

Pig improvement companies evolved, creating new white hybrids and lines that were able to thrive in these intensive conditions. The companies became masters of the intricacies of pig genetics, each breeding many thousands of young pigs annually for sale to pig-rearing farmers with indoor enterprises of their own. Of the five million pigs in the United Kingdom in the opening years of the twenty-first century, about 10 per cent were breeding sows, most of them kept indoors, and about 70 per cent of their offspring were reared intensively indoors — most of them crossbreds based on Large White and Landrace. The young are slaughtered for meat at between four and seven months of age.

However, the situation is changing. New legislation and different attitudes to farm animal welfare have meant that increasing numbers of breeding sows are now being kept in more extensive systems out of doors. Breeding programmes reflect the change, and the search is on for genes that can make pigs hardier again — as they used to be. Some of the traditional minor British breeds might be just what the industry needs for the future.
Writing in 1823, William Cobbett advised cottagers on the keeping of pigs, but, he said, 'these are animals not to be ventured on without due consideration as to the means of feeding them; for, a starved pig is a great deal worse than none at all.

Pig basics (part one)

Wiltshire bacon curing on the farm in the traditional way

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