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


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


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