Environmental Encounters: Woolly Mammoth, Indigenous Communities and Metropolitan Scientists in the Soviet Arctic

Dmitry V. Arzyutov* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


This article investigates how in the Soviet Arctic researchers and indigenous communities searched and understood the mammoth before and during the Cold War. Based on a vast number of published and unpublished sources as well as interviews with scholars and reindeer herders, this article demonstrates that the mammoth, as a paleontological find fusing together features of extinct and extant species, plays an in-between role among various environmental epistemologies. The author refers to moments of interactions among these different actors as “environmental encounters”, which comprise and engage with the physical, political, social and cultural environments of the Arctic. These encounters shape the temporal stabilisations of knowledge which enable the mammoth to live its post-extinct life. This article combines approaches from environmental history and anthropology, history of science and indigenous studies showing the social vitality of a “fossil object”.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-153
Number of pages12
JournalPolar Record
Issue number3
Early online date13 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

This paper has been presented at the (Un)Common Worlds: Human-Animal Studies conference in Turku, Finland on 7–9 August 2018 and at Helsinki University Environmental Humanities Forum on 12 March 2019. Many of the ideas in this article have been formulated thanks to my long-term collaborations with Nenets reindeer herders in the Yamal peninsula in the Russian Arctic, namely, Khadri’ nyísya, Gena’ nyebya, Artur nyinyeka, di͡adi͡a Fedi͡a, Roman Andreevich and many others. I thank them for their incredible hospitality, support and genuine interest in what I was doing in the field. This research could not be possible without the help and advice of my colleagues Marii͡a Amelina (Moscow), David Anderson (Aberdeen), Dmitriĭ Doronin (Moscow), Naili͡a Galeeva (Salekhard/Kazan’), Erik Hieta (Helsinki), I͡Ulii͡a Laĭus (Saint Petersburg), Kati Lindström (Stockholm), Li͡udmila Lipatova (Salekhard), Karina Lukin (Helsinki), Serguei Oushakine (Princeton), Viktor Pál (Helsinki), Noora Pyyry (Helsinki), Peder Roberts (Stavanger/Stockholm), Mikko Saikku (Helsinki), Laura Siragusa (Helsinki), Anna Svensson (Stockholm) and Alekseĭ Tikhonov (Saint Petersburg). The analysis of indigenous folklore would be impossible without the online database of folklore motives compiled by I͡Uriĭ E. Berezkin (http://www.ruthenia.ru/folklore/berezkin/index.htm). I am also grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and recommendations.

All Russian words and titles are transliterated with ALA-LC (Library of Congress) Romanization with Diacritics, while Nenets words are transliterated according to the system of Tapani Salminen.

Financial Support
This article has been written with the support of the ERC project Greening the Poles: Science, the Environment, and the Creation of the Modern Arctic and Antarctic (GRETPOL) (PI Prof Peder Roberts). The field research for this article has been supported by the Russian Scientific Foundation project No 18-18-00309 The Energy of the Arctic and Siberia: The Use of Resources in the Context of Socio-Economic and Ecological Change (PI Dr Vladimir N. Davydov).


  • mammoth
  • environmental encounters
  • Extinct/extant
  • in-betweenness
  • Soviet Arctic


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