Landscape Agency and Evenki-Iakut Reindeer Husbandry Along the Zhuia River, Eastern Siberia

David G. Anderson, Evgenii M. Ineshin, Natalia V. Kulagina, Mika Lavento, Oksana P. Vinkovskaya

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This interdisciplinary study applies a series of environmental tests developed in Fennoscandia to elaborate the patterns created by contemporary and past reindeer husbandry along the Zhuia River, Bodaibo district, Irkutsk oblast', Russian Federation. We successfully used pollen and fungal spore analysis to document the long-term use of one site by ungulates-although it remains unclear if these animals were 'domestic' reindeer or not. The date of occupation could go as far back as the fourteenth century. The on-site phosphate analysis, attempted for the first time in Eastern Siberia, proved a useful tool for locating the sites of animal action although failed to specify the boundaries of that action. It did emphasise the importance of accounting for the agency of wind in ordering reindeer behaviour. Finally, the combined phosphate, botanical, and pollen work documented a history of succession of types of land-use from the hunting of Rangifer, to holding Rangifer, to the maintenance of meadows for horses or cattle, to the formation of cereal crops and vegetable patches. The combined use of these methods and a discussion of the ambiguities they produced suggests that they are best employed to find distinctive sites in the landscape which attract both people and animals and are less effective in documenting a Euro-American vision of trust or domination in human-animal relations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-266
Number of pages18
JournalHuman Ecology
Early online date25 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014

Bibliographical note

This article is dedicated to the memory of Vasilii Nikolaeich Maksimov who drowned with his son while crossing the Zhuia River in 2012.

The field research and laboratory analysis for this article was sponsored mainly by a grant from the Research Council of Norway (NFR 179316) within the multinational research framework “BOREAS: Histories from the North” organized by the European Science Foundation EUROCORES programme. A portion of the laboratory work, and the time for writing an analysis was made possible by an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC AdG 295458). The research could not have been carried out without the in-kind support, equipment and expertise of the Irkutsk State Technological University and the logistical support of the mining enterprise ‘Svetlyi’ based in Bodaibo. We are grateful to Iurii Vasil’evich Zharkov of the goldmining company Vitim and his uncle Iurii Alekseevich Zharkov of Svetlyi Ltd for professionally and reliably arranging ground transport for us and our equipment to and from the banks of the Zhuia River. We are also grateful to Iurii Konstantinovich Polititsyn, a lifetime resident of Svetlyi, who gave advice on sites of previous Evenki occupation and whose family helped us to navigate the river and organise the fieldwork.

For this article, DGA was the principal investigator of the two grants, participated in most of the fieldwork, and composed this English text consulting Russian-language drafts prepared by EMI and OPV. EMI organized the fieldwork, conducted the trench digging, and prepared preliminary versions of the maps. OPV participated in the fieldwork, collected botanical samples, and participated in the interpretation of the pollen diagrams. ML participated in the fieldwork and conducted the phosphate analysis. The arduous work of identifying and counting the pollen grains, fungal spores and charcoal fragments was done by NVK in her laboratory in Irkutsk.

We are indebted to our colleagues Drs. Ed Schofield and Dmitryi Mauquoy of the School of Geosciences at the University of Aberdeen for drafting the pollen diagrams and constructing the age-depth model and to Paul Ledger and Ilse Kamerling, also of the University of Aberdeen, for helping draft the final versions of the maps and figures.


  • Siberia
  • Evenki
  • reindeer
  • pastoralism
  • landscape
  • ethnography
  • pollen
  • phosphate
  • history of science


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