From wild to domestic reindeer – Genetic evidence of a non-native origin of reindeer pastoralism in northern Fennoscandia

Knut Roed, Ivar Bjørklund, Bjørnar J. Olsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


The question of how reindeer pastoralism came about has been the subject of recurrent scientific inquiry from many different disciplines. In order to investigate the genetic traces within a Fennoscandian transition from a predominantly hunting economy to reindeer pastoralism, we obtained sequences from the mitochondrial control region from 193 reindeer samples from several archaeological sites dated between 1000 and 1700 CE in Finnmark County, northern Norway. A comparison with similar data from more recent archaeological sites, including extant domestic reindeer, demonstrates that the mitochondrial genome in Finnmark reindeer has gone through massive genetic replacement since medieval times characterized by a significant loss of native mtDNA haplotypes, together with a significant introduction of new haplotypes. Out of a total number of 62 haplotypes identified in both the modern and archaeological samples, only 14 were detected among samples known to represent domestic reindeer, while nine of these haplotypes were completely absent from the more ancient sites. Our documentation of a major genetic shift during the 16th and 17th centuries suggests that non-native animals were introduced during this period, at the same time as the transition to reindeer pastoralism took place.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-286
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Early online date23 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

This article is dedicated to the memory of our friend and colaborator Dr. Sven-Donald Hedman, of the Centre for Sami Studies, UiT -The Arctic University of Norway, who passed away all too early in 2015. We also thank Anne Karin Hufthammer of the Bergen Museum, University of Bergen, for providing archaeological reindeer material, and Liv Midthjell for her skillful laboratory analyses and David Anderson for useful comments and language editing. This work was supported by the projects Hunters in Transition (The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation, grant number P11-1143:1), Rangifer Domus (NordForsk Research Network, 2011-2014), ReiGN “Reindeer Husbandry in a Globalizing North – Resilience, Adaptations and Pathways for Actions” (NordForsk-funded “Nordic Centre of Excellence”, project number 76915) and ERC Advanced Grant 295458 (University of Aberdeen).


  • ancient DNA
  • bottleneck
  • domestication
  • mitochondrial DNA
  • Rangifer
  • Sámi


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