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Reindeer Imagery in the Making at Ust’-Polui in Arctic Siberia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 October 2020

Tatiana Nomokonova
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology University of Saskatchewan 55 Campus Drive Saskatoon, SK Canada S7N 5E2 Email:
Robert J. Losey
Department of Anthropology University of Alberta 13-15 HM Tory Building Edmonton, AB Canada T6G 2H4 Email:
Natalia V. Fedorova
Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies Respublika St 20 Salekhard Iamal-Nenets Autonomous District Russian Federation 629008 Email:
Andrei V. Gusev
Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies Respublika St 20 Salekhard Iamal-Nenets Autonomous District Russian Federation 629008 Email:
Dmitry V. Arzyutov
Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment KTH Royal Institute of Technology Teknikringen 74D 100 44 Stockholm Sweden Email:


The history of reindeer domestication is a critical topic in the study of human-animal relationships across Northern Eurasia. The Iamal-Nenets region of Arctic Siberia, now a global centre of reindeer pastoralism, has been the subject of much recent research on reindeer domestication. However, tracking the beginnings of reindeer domestication in this region and elsewhere in Eurasia has proved challenging. Archaeological imagery is an under-utilized source of information for exploring animal domestication. In this paper we explore the abundant reindeer imagery found at the Iron Age site of Ust’-Polui in Iamal, dating from ~260 bce to ce 140. While reindeer were hunted in Siberia long before the occupation of Ust’-Polui, portable reindeer imagery appears abruptly at this time period, co-occurring at the site with equipment thought to be for training transport reindeer. Training and working with transport reindeer required long-term engagement with specific animals that became well known and precious to their human keepers. Creating, utilizing and depositing the reindeer imagery objects at Ust’-Polui was a way of acknowledging critical new working relationships with specific domestic reindeer.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

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Reindeer Imagery in the Making at Ust’-Polui in Arctic Siberia
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