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

Tatiana Nomokonova*, Rob Losey, Natalia V. Fedorova, Andrei V. Gusev, Dmitry Arzyutov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-181
JournalCambridge Archaeological Journal
Issue number1
Early online date22 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the staff of the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in St Petersburg (Kunstkamera) and Iamal-Nenets Region Museum Complex of I.S. Shemanovski, Salekhard, for granting access to the Ust’-Polui reindeer images. Funding for this project was provided by grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation (SFR1725) and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [#SSHRC IG 435-2014-0075] to Robert Losey and by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research to Natalia Fedorova (18-09-40011). Special thanks to Mikhail Bronshtein for his consultation on reindeer rock images from Chukotka.

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

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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