Pig-primate Hybrids

Historical reports

EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS

Some readers may find the contents of this page disturbing.

     

Historical

At Frusino a lamb was born with a swine’s head; at Sinuessa, a pig with a human head; and in Lucania,… a foal with five feet. All these were considered as horrid and abominable, and as if nature were straying from her course in confounding the different species.
—Titus Livius
The History of Rome
Pig-human Hybrid A pig-human hybrid, supposedly born at Liege in the year 1110 CE (source: Liceti 1607, II, p. 183).

This page of the gig-primate hybrids section collects historical accounts of pig-human hybrids from early literature. One might suppose, of course, that such reports are little more than old wives’ tales. But stories of this sort may be more worthwhile than some would suppose. “For,” as Celeborn says in The Lord of the Rings, “oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.”

No less a personage than the great philosopher John Locke gave credence to the existence of pig-human hybrids. In his renowned Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690, III, Chapter 6, §27) he asks, “Who would undertake to resolve what species that monster was of, which is mentioned

by Licetus (Bk. i. c. 3), with a man’s head and hog’s body? … Had the upper part to the middle been of human shape, and all below swine, had it been murder to destroy it? Or must the bishop have been consulted, whether it were man enough to be admitted to the font or no? As I have been told it happened in France some years since, in somewhat a like case.

In 1699 the English physician Sir John Floyer (1649-1734) authored an account (Floyer 1699) of two supposed human-pig hybrids (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, vol. 21). There he states that “In May 1699 there was shewed to me a Pig, at Weeford in Staffordshire, with

a Face something representing an Humane Fœtus, and the roundness of the Head, and the flatness of the Ears surprised all Persons, and they did usually apprehend it to be a Humane Face, produced by the Copulation of two Species. … This kind of Monstrous Pigs … I believe is very frequent, because I had another [piglet] of the same Kind sent me out Derbyshire, which had a resemblance of a Man’s face and all the other parts of a Pig, and this had the same Chin, and depression betwixt the Eyes, and the roundness of the Head and flatness of the Ears I have above described.
Human-pig hybrid
Head of an alleged man-pig (Floyer 1699)

Floyer himself, ascribed the human-like heads of these piglets to “compression of the Womb” (that is, as Floyer explains, pressure on the piglet’s head from the uterus, placenta or adjacent piglets(. But from his account, it’s clear that others believed these animals to be pig-human hybrids. He says one, a male, was born alive but died soon thereafter because he could not nurse.

Human-pig hybrid
Title page of a 1676 pamphlet announcing the birth in London of a pig with human-like features.

It’s of interest that the shape of the head of the animal as described by Floyer and as pictured in his illustration (see figure, above right) is similar to that of the “monkey-pigs” pictured on another page of this website ("the same Chin, and depression betwixt the Eyes, and the roundness of the Head and flatness of the Ears"). However, if his animals were in fact hybrids, it’s clear that in England in 1699 the nonporcine parent would not have been a monkey. Floyer notes that the sex of the Derbyshire “piglet” could not be determined, but that the Weeford animal was a male.

Other examples of alleged pig-human hybrids can be found in writings of French surgeon Ambroise Paré, who says (Paré 1646, pp. 665-666) that “In the year 1110 a sow in the town of Liège farrowed a pig having the head and the face of a man, as well as human hands and feet, but the rest was like a pig." Paré’s illustration of this animal appears immediately below.

Pig-human Hybrid
An additional artist’s conception of the pig-human hybrid of Liege (Paré 1646, p. 665), also pictured at the top of this page.

Continuing, Paré says that

In the year 1564 in Brussels, at the house of a man named Joest Dickpert, living on Warmoesbroeck Street, a sow farrowed six pigs, the first of which was a prodigy having a man’s face, as well as arms with hands, and representing humanity in a general way from the shoulders up; but it had the two hind legs and rear parts of a swine, and the genitals of a sow. It nursed along with the others and lived two days, but then it was killed, along with the sow, on account of the horror that people had of it; this prodigy is here illustrated [see woodcut figure below] most naturally, just as it was in life. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original French.]
Pig-human Hybrid
Pig-human hybrid that Paré says was born in Brussels in the year 1564 (Paré 1646, p. 665)


Both of these alleged hybrids are figured in Paré (1646, p. 665). The first may be a reference to a single-sentence mentioning such a hybrid in the Chronica Majora of Matthew Paris (c. 1200-1259): “At the same time [1109 CE], in a parish of Liège, a sow gave birth to a piglet with the face of a man.” Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original Latin: “Eodem tempore in parochia Legiensi porca porcellum enixa est, sed faciem hominis habentem” (Luard 1874, vol. 2, p. 136).¹ But given that Paris makes no mention of hands and feet, Paré may have read about this birth in some other source.

Sir John Hayward, in his Annals of the First Four Years of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, writes that in the year 1562, “a sowe farrowed a pigge having hands and fingers like a man child.”² A contemporary account of this “piglet” published in a broadside that same year reads as follows:

This present yere of oure Lord God a thousande five hundred three score and two, one Marke Finkle a joiner dwelling beside Charing Crosse by Westminster, had a sow that brought forth one pigge onely, upon the seventh of Maye, beinge Ascention daye, the whiche pigge had … two fore feet, like unto handes, eche hande havinge thre long fingers and a thumbe, bothe the thumbes growinge on the outsides of the handes. [quoted in Lilly 1870, pp. 45-46.]
pig with a human head An alleged pig-human hybrid that, according Johann Georg Schenck, was born on Cyprus near Nicosia, Dec. 12, 1568, along with four normal piglets. (source: Monstrorum historia memorabilis, 1609, p. 113, fig. 85). The structure shown on the forehead may represent a frontal proboscis.

Asymmetry in hybrids: There are various cases known, where hybridization produces an asymmetry in body parts similar to those seen in some of the alleged hybrids listed on this page. For example, in my book on avian hybrids (McCarthy 2006) I mention that a hybrid between Laysan Albatross (Diomedea immutabilis) and Black-footed Albatross (D. nigripes) had one black foot, while the other resembled that of a Laysan. Similarly, a goldeneye-hooded merganser hybrid (Bucephala clangula × Lophodytes cucullatus) had scalation on one leg like a goldeneye, but that on the other was like L. cucullatus (ibid.). Mengel (1971, p. 324) mentions an F₁ dog-wolf hybrid (Canis familiaris × Canis latrans with asymmetric teeth (C though M2 much longer on left side). Handy et al. (2004) reported increased levels of asymmetry in plant hybrids.

Johann Georg Schenck (1609, pp. 113-114) lists seven old cases of pigs born with human heads. One of these, he says, the creature pictured at right, was born near Nicosia on the island of Cyprus in the year 1568.

An additional case is listed in Chinese records of the Shanghai region, a pig born in the year 1600 with a human head and hands (Macgowan, 1860, p.70). Two others are mentioned by the ancient Roman historian Livy (59 BCE-17 CE), who says (History of Rome) a pig with a human head was farrowed at Sinuessa (XXXI, xii) and another at Tarquinii (XXVII, iv). And Albertus Magnus (Physica, lib. 2, tr. 3, cap. 3) states that “sows can give birth to piglets with human heads” (“porcae parientes porcellos, quorum capita sunt humana”).

In the case of all of these reports of alleged human-pig hybrids it is always the forepart of the animal that resembles humans and the rear that resembles pigse. There is, however, variation among the accounts with respect to how much of the forepart is human, varying from cases where a single foreleg bears a human hand, up to cases where both forelegs do, and the head and face bear a perfect resemblance to the human condition. A 18th century case reports the presence of a human ear on one side and a pig ear on the other (as does the more 1874 case described in the article excerpted from the Clarksville Weekly Chronicle at right). There is also variation with respect to the presence/absence of a frontal proboscis, which seems to be reported in something less than half the cases.

Since he believed such things to be real, it’s not surprising that Locke, wound up his discussion of pig-human hybrids by asserting that no one really knows exactly what a “human being” might be. “So far are we from certainly knowing what a man is; though perhaps it will be judged great ignorance to make any doubt about it. And yet, I think, I may say,

that the certain boundaries of that species are so far from being determined … that very material doubts may still arise about it. And I imagine, none of the definitions of the word man, which we yet have, nor descriptions of that sort of animal, are so perfect and exact as to satisfy a considerate inquisitive person.

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By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).



buman hybrids cartoon
Pig-human Hybrid
Above: A 16th-century account of a pig-human hybrid supposedly born in Italy in 1528. From Fabio Columna's Phytobasanos siue Plantarum aliquot historia in qua describuntur diuersi …, Appendix: Piscium aliquot plantarumque novum (Neapoli, 1592), p. 5. The following is a translation of the relevant portion of the text: “To this may be added, because it is extraordinary — and even unbelievable if it were only heard of — but it is attested by the word and teaching of many authorities, and it has been told me by my dear grandmother Caterina Pelegrina, and I am persuaded that it is certain, given that her living father, Hieronymus Abellar, and other citizens of the town confirm it, in the year of our salvation 1528 a monstrous animal was born of a sow, having the head in all respects like that of a human being, but the remainder of the body like that of its mother…”


Notes:

1. English historian Sir John Hayward (1613, p. 303) refers to what seems to be the same case. He says the event took place in the thirteenth year of the reign of Henry the First, which would have been 1112 CE Hayward notes merely that “A pigge was farrowed with a face like a childe.”

2. Crawford (2005); Hayward (1840, vol. 7, p. 107).


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