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The Archaeology of Reindeer Domestication and Herding Practices in Northern Fennoscandia


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Animal domestication is a profound change for human societies, economies, and worldviews. The shifting definitions of animal domestication reflect its varying and process-like nature. Reindeer is one of the species whose domestication is not easily pinned down using standard definitions and research methodologies of animal domestication. In recent years, advances in archaeological methodology and the conceptual understanding of animal domestication have opened new avenues for research on this topic. This review summarizes recent research on the archaeology of reindeer domestication among the Indigenous Sámi of northern Fennoscandia. It compiles a chronological framework of reindeer domestication with an emphasis on the development of reindeer-herding practices and human–reindeer relationships. I argue that while a major transition to reindeer herding occurred among the Sámi from the 15th century onward, small-scale reindeer herding characterized by interspecies sociality, cooperation, and care developed earlier during the Late Iron Age, with regional variations in the timing and details of the events. By focusing on reindeer-herding practices and the human–reindeer relationships embedded in them, I also argue that reindeer domestication, and animal domestication in general, is a relationship constructed and constantly renegotiated in everyday interactions with the animals.
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Journal of Archaeological Research
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The Archaeology ofReindeer Domestication andHerding
Practices inNorthern Fennoscandia
Accepted: 23 March 2022
© The Author(s) 2022
Animal domestication is a profound change for human societies, economies, and
worldviews. The shifting definitions of animal domestication reflect its varying and
process-like nature. Reindeer is one of the species whose domestication is not eas-
ily pinned down using standard definitions and research methodologies of animal
domestication. In recent years, advances in archaeological methodology and the
conceptual understanding of animal domestication have opened new avenues for
research on this topic. This review summarizes recent research on the archaeology
of reindeer domestication among the Indigenous Sámi of northern Fennoscandia.
It compiles a chronological framework of reindeer domestication with an empha-
sis on the development of reindeer-herding practices and human–reindeer relation-
ships. I argue that while a major transition to reindeer herding occurred among the
Sámi from the 15th century onward, small-scale reindeer herding characterized by
interspecies sociality, cooperation, and care developed earlier during the Late Iron
Age, with regional variations in the timing and details of the events. By focusing on
reindeer-herding practices and the human–reindeer relationships embedded in them,
I also argue that reindeer domestication, and animal domestication in general, is a
relationship constructed and constantly renegotiated in everyday interactions with
the animals.
Keywords Animal domestication· Herding· Reindeer· The Sámi· Fennoscandia
Reindeer herding is an emblematic way of life for much of northern Eurasia, where
reindeer-herding peoples are encountered from Mongolia in the east through the
Siberian tundra and taiga zones to the northern parts of Finland, Sweden, and
* Anna-Kaisa Salmi
1 Archaeology, Research Unit ofHistory, Culture, andCommunication, University ofOulu, P.O.
Box8000, 90014Oulu, Finland
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Norway. The domestication of the reindeer and the connections between the differ-
ent reindeer-herding traditions have been discussed by historians, archaeologists,
and ethnographers for more than 100 years (Kortesalmi 2008, pp. 20–21; Stépanoff
2017; Storli 1996). One reason for the constant fascination with the topic is due, in
part, to the fact that the relationships between people and reindeer escape easy labels
and straightforward domestication narratives.
Animal domestication is one of the major shifts in human prehistory, transform-
ing economies, societies, and worldviews (e.g., Cauvin 2000; Hodder 2011; Vigne
2011). According to the classic paradigm, livestock was first domesticated in the
Near East for primary products such as meat, hide, and bone, whereas secondary
products such as milk, wool, and traction were only later exploited on a larger scale
(Greenfield 2010; Sherratt 1981). Some have argued that livestock domestication
and the adoption of agriculture led to the development of permanent settlement,
population growth, the rise of social inequality, and religious change (e.g., Bocquet-
Appel 2002; Cauvin 2000; Hodder 2011; Horwitz etal. 1999; Kohler etal. 2017).
It has long been believed that the relationship with animals and nature changed
from trust and reciprocity to domination and control during the domestication pro-
cess (Ingold 2000), and classic definitions of animal domestication tend to empha-
size human control over the lives and reproductive cycles of animals (e.g., Bökönyi
1989; Clutton-Brock 1992, p. 21). However, as the domestication histories of rein-
deer and many other species show, animal domestication processes are complex and
unique processes with varying motives, starting points, and outcomes (e.g., Bogaard
etal. 2021; Zeder 2012). Although the variation in animal domestication processes
has long been acknowledged by archaeologists, the classic narratives and defini-
tions can haunt the methodological and conceptual approaches archaeologists take
to study animal domestication.
Probably the most comprehensive definition of animal domestication, by Zeder
(2015, p. 3191), defines it as “a sustained multigenerational, mutualistic relation-
ship in which one organism assumes a significant degree of influence over the repro-
duction and care of another organism in order to secure a more predictable supply
of a resource of interest, and through which the partner organism gains advantage
over individuals that remain outside this relationship, thereby benefitting and often
increasing the fitness of both the domesticator and the target domesticate.” Tradi-
tional archaeological approaches to domestication have focused largely on aspects
of reproductive control by searching for morphological characteristics associated
with the domestication syndrome, which is a set of morphological, physiological,
and behavioral features linked to domestication, probably via changes in neural
crest development (Wilkins etal. 2014). These morphological characteristics such
as craniofacial changes and reduction in body size (e.g., Arbuckle and Makarewicz
2009; Clutton-Brock 1992, pp. 21–25; Germonpré etal. 2009) are not necessarily
evolved in incipient domestication (Harbers etal. 2020; Pelletier etal. 2020). Yet
human-induced changes in locomotor patterns, for example, corralling and draught
use, induce plastic changes such as changes in body size, morphology, and cross-
sectional properties that can be indicative of early-stage domestication (Harbers
etal. 2020; Pelletier etal. 2020).
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Domestication is a social and cultural relationship between people and animals
(Anderson etal. 2017a; Clark 2007; Ingold 2000; Knight 2012; O’Connor 1997;
Oma 2010). In particular, the many forms that human–reindeer entanglements can
take challenge traditional understandings of animal domestication, leading scientists
to find new vocabularies to describe these entanglements in terms of mutual learn-
ing and sharing (e.g., Anderson etal. 2017a; Losey etal. 2021; Stépanoff 2017). Sté-
panoff (2017) argues that reindeer domestication is a process in which both humans
and animals modify their behavior to learn to live together in a shared landscape.
Losey etal. (2021) present a related argument that emphasizes the mutual learning
aspects in reindeer domestication, claiming that reindeer domestication was a pro-
cess of enskillment where both people and reindeer learned new skills when engag-
ing with each other. Anderson etal. (2017a) reject clear boundaries between wild
and domesticated reindeer and focus on understanding their various relationships
with people through architectures and places of encounter in the landscape. Com-
mon to these approaches and definitions is that reindeer domestication is understood
as an ongoing process in which the relationships between the people and animals are
constructed in shared environments and daily interactions (Salmi etal. 2021).
The new vocabularies of domestication are accompanied by new archaeologi-
cal methodologies and approaches that enable the teasing out of new nuances of
human–reindeer relationships from the archaeological data (e.g., Anderson et al.
2019; Heino etal. 2021; Pelletier etal. 2020; Salmi etal. 2020a, b; Seitsonen and
Viljanmaa 2021). Promising new possibilities are provided by methods that allow
the identification of human–reindeer interactions such as feeding, milking, penning,
working together, or shared mobilities that occur in the daily framework of animal
management practices (e.g., Jerand and Linderholm 2019; Pelletier et al. 2020;
Salmi etal. 2021; Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021). Although the emphasis on the
social aspects of the domestication relationship may be more descriptive of animal
management than domestication as such (Zeder 2015), the addition of human–ani-
mal sociality to the definition of the domestication relationship has the potential to
add to the archaeological methodological repertoire and the understanding of the
shared lives of humans and domesticated animals in the past.
In this paper, I address reindeer domestication and the development of reindeer
herding among the Indigenous Sámi of northern Fennoscandia in the light of new
studies, methodological possibilities, and conceptual tools that have emerged in
recent years. I start by outlining current knowledge on the ecological and genetic
aspects of reindeer domestication and the archaeological approaches taken to study
it. I then examine four different types of human–animal social engagements more
closely that occurred in the process of reindeer domestication: reindeer supple-
mentary feeding, the training and use of draught reindeer, the shared landscapes
of mobilities of people and reindeer, and their religious and ritual entanglements. I
approach these aspects of the human–reindeer relationship by utilizing information
provided by multiple methodologies, the most important being stable isotope analy-
sis, an analysis of ancient DNA, physical activity reconstruction based on skeletal
remains, landscape archaeology, and the use of reindeer herders’ traditional knowl-
edge. Through an emphasis on identifying and understanding reindeer-herding prac-
tices, I explore the human–reindeer relationships embedded in the domestication
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relationship. Utilizing the archaeology of these social engagements, I demonstrate
that approaches targeting human–animal social interaction can contribute especially
to the understanding of reindeer-herding practices, but also to dating and under-
standing the processes involved in incipient reindeer domestication. I also argue that
the study of such human–animal social engagements has the potential to inform us
about human–animal relationships in the domestication processes of other animal
species. This paper therefore contributes to the understanding of reindeer domestica-
tion in the wider context of animal domestication studies.
The geographical focus of this paper is the homeland of the Indigenous Sámi
people, located in northern Fennoscandia (Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola
Peninsula in northwest Russia). There are differences in archaeological research
activity and the resulting representativeness of data for northern Fennoscandia (e.g.,
Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021). Furthermore, the Sámi affiliations of many types
of archaeological sites located in southern Norway and Sweden and on the coastal
areas are still debated, whereas the affiliations of most sites located in northern areas
are often less controversial (Amundsen and Os 2020; Baglo 2019; Zachrisson 1997).
In practice, many of the analyses covered in this paper of stable isotopes, ancient
DNA, and faunal analysis have focused on sites located in the northern parts of the
Sámi area (Fig.1, Table1). Thus, the primary archaeological data covered in this
paper originate from northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway (Fig.1), with very little
data from the Kola Peninsula and Southern Sámi areas.
Fig. 1 Map of northern Fennoscandia with archaeological sites mentioned in the text. Filled square Set-
tlement site filled circle Offering place filled triangle Mining site filled triangle Marketplace (illustration
by A. Salmi)
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Table 1 The main archaeological data sets discussed in paper, indicating site type, dating, and conducted analyses
Country Site Site type Date Faunal analysis Physical
aDNA References
Finland Sieiddakeädgi Offering site 1165–1659 x x x Heino etal. 2021; Salmi etal.
2018, 2020a
Finland Näkkälä Offering site 1165–modern x x x Heino etal. 2021; Salmi etal.
2018, 2020a
Finland Koskikaltiojoen suu Offering site 1278–modern x x Heino etal. 2021; Salmi etal. 2018
Finland Taatsi Offering site 1040–1920 x x Heino etal. 2021; Salmi etal. 2018
Finland Ukonsaari-68 Offering site 1514–1797 x Salmi etal. 2018
Finland Juikenttä Dwelling site 13th–17th centuries x x Harlin etal. 2019; Salmi etal. 2021
Finland Nukkumajoki Dwelling site 15th–17th centuries x x Harlin etal. 2019; Salmi etal. 2021
Finland Autiokenttä Dwelling site 17th–18th centuries x x Harlin etal. 2019; Salmi etal. 2021
Finland Markkina Market place 17th–18th centuries x Harlin etal. 2019
Finland Papilla Market place 17th–18th centuries x Harlin etal. 2019
Sweden Seitesuolo Offering site 1296–1942 x x Salmi etal. 2018, 2020a
Sweden Paddusas Offering site 1170–modern x x Salmi etal. 2018, 2020a
Sweden Jervas vid Karats Offering site 1681–1938 x x Salmi etal. 2018, 2020a
Sweden Utdjäure Offering site 1452–1635 x x Salmi etal. 2018, 2020a
Sweden Unna Saiva Offering site 545–1939 x x Salmi etal. 2018, 2020a
Sweden Laisholm Offering site 1648–modern x x Salmi etal. 2018, 2020a
Sweden Sitasjaure Offering site x x Salmi etal. 2018, 2020a
Sweden Unna Paddus Offering site 1691–1925 x x Salmi etal. 2018, 2020a
Sweden Viddjavárri Offering site 1220–modern x x Salmi etal. 2018, 2020a
Sweden Atjekåive Offering site x x Salmi etal. 2018, 2020a
Sweden Meselefors Offering site 1680–1939 x x Salmi etal. 2018, 2020a
Sweden Vindelgransele Offering site Viking Age/ medieval x Fjellström etal. 2020
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Table 1 (continued)
Country Site Site type Date Faunal analysis Physical
aDNA References
Sweden Vivallen Dwelling site 11th–13th centuries x Fjellström etal. 2020
Sweden Arjeplog Market place 1692–1820 x Fjellström etal. 2020
Sweden Silbojokk Mining community 17th–19th centuries x x Fjellström etal. 2020; Sten 1989
Norway Bealjašvarre Offering site 1183–1276 x Salmi etal. 2018
Norway Saivarova Offering site 1438–1630 x Salmi etal. 2018
Norway Brodkorbneset Dwelling site 11th–13th centuries x Hedman etal. 2015
Norway Kjerringneset Dwelling site 11th–13th centuries x Hedman etal. 2015
Norway Gæccevaj’njar’ga 244 B Dwelling site 15th century x Hambleton and Rowley-Conwy
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The archaeological data I discuss consist of different data sets from Sámi dwell-
ing sites (Salmi etal. 2021; Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021), marketplaces (Fjell-
ström etal. 2020), and ritual offering places (Núñez etal. 2020; Salmi etal. 2018,
2020a). The main data sets used to discuss the central themes of this paper are listed
in Table1, including faunal assemblages from dwelling sites located in Norway,
Sweden, and Finland, and dating from ca. AD 1000 to the 18th century. There also
are faunal data from marketplaces, which have a long history in northern Fennos-
candia, at least from the 12th century onward (Kuusela etal. 2016; Wallerström
1983; Ylimaunu 2007, pp. 24–25). The northernmost inland marketplaces were
established in the 16th century, when the King of Sweden ruled that a church and
a marketplace were to be established in every Lapp village (Korpijaakko 1989, pp.
139–145; Slunga 1993). Marketplaces served various social, economic, legal, and
religious purposes for the Sámi (Korpijaakko 1989, pp. 139–145; Ylimaunu 2007,
pp. 26–28). There also are archaeological data from Silbojokk, representing the liv-
ing facilities of the workers of the Nasaäll silver mine. Many of the workers were
Sámi, and the Sámi communities of the surrounding areas played an important role
in providing for the mining community (Roslund 1989; Sten 1989). A large set of
archaeological data originates from Sámi offering places located in Norway, Fin-
land, and Sweden. Offering places were natural features such as boulders, waterbod-
ies, or mountains, usually unshaped by people, and they served in negotiating the
relationships between people, the land, and its resources (Salmi etal. 2018). Various
goods such as metal objects, animal body parts, tobacco, and alcohol were offered at
these places, beginning with animals in ca. AD 500–700 (Salmi etal. 2018). In addi-
tion to these data sets (see Table1), spatial data regarding various Sámi sites dating
from ca. AD 700 onward have been utilized to analyze hunting and herding land-
scapes through GIS analysis (Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021). The timeline of the
data thus extends approximately from the eighth to the 19th century AD. The data
sets are patchy spatially and temporally, the most comprehensive data set in terms
of spatial and temporal representativeness perhaps being that from Sámi offering
places (Heino etal. 2021; Salmi etal. 2018, 2020a; Table1). Despite the patchiness,
the data sets offer insights into both more general and local processes of reindeer
domestication and the development of reindeer herding among the Sámi. Yet the
limitations the patchiness pose, especially to understanding the development of rein-
deer herding outside the core study area, must be borne in mind.
Ecological, Morphological, andGenetic Aspects oftheReindeer andIts
The reindeer (or caribou) (Rangifer tarandus) is a pan-arctic ungulate species extant
in the northern parts of Eurasia and North America. The morphology and ecology
of the reindeer vary across the area. Different subspecies or ecotype divisions have
been made, but they can generally be divided into high arctic, tundra, and forest
ecotypes. Ecological and ethological characteristics such as mobility, diet, and herd
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structure vary between populations and ecotypes (Banfield 1961). These character-
istics also vary seasonally. Two subspecies, wild forest reindeer (R. t. fennicus) and
mountain reindeer (R. t. tarandus), live in Fennoscandia. Wild forest reindeer herds
are relatively small, and they do not exhibit large-scale migratory behavior between
seasonal habitats as mountain reindeer do. Mountain reindeer live in larger herds,
although the herd composition varies seasonally, and they can migrate over large
distances between seasonal habitats. Today, mountain reindeer include small wild
populations in southern Norway and the Kola Peninsula in Russia, and the domes-
tic populations in Sweden, Norway, and northern Finland. Wild forest reindeer are
extant today in central and eastern Finland and in northwestern Russia (Banfield
1961; Weldenegodguad etal. 2020).
Both subspecies are thought to have been present in Fennoscandia since degla-
ciation (Rankama and Ukkonen 2001). Genetic differences between the Fennoscan-
dian reindeer populations indicate that mountain reindeer colonized the area from
the south after deglaciation, whereas wild forest reindeer colonized the area from
the east (Røed etal. 2008; Weldenegodguad etal. 2020). It is likely that the dis-
tribution of the subspecies has fluctuated according to climatic and environmental
changes over time (Rankama and Ukkonen 2001). Furthermore, the reindeer sub-
species can interbreed with one another (e.g., Røed etal. 2014). Genetic research
conducted mainly on mitochondrial DNA indicates that reindeer were domesticated
separately in Fennoscandia and Siberia. Mitochondrial genetic lineages common in
today’s domestic reindeer herds in Fennoscandia (haplotypes II and Ib) are present
but less prevalent in Siberia, implying two separate domestication centers (Røed
etal. 2008; Weldenegodguad etal. 2020). These genetic lineages first appear in the
archaeological record in Fennoscandia ca. AD 1400–1600 (Bjørnstad etal. 2012;
Heino etal. 2021; Røed etal. 2018), but they were present in Siberia as early as
~3900 BC (Røed etal. 2020).
Although the morphological and behavioral characteristics of wild and domes-
tic reindeer are not as distinct as in many other species, several morphological and
behavioral changes have occurred in the process of reindeer domestication. The
skeletal morphology of the reindeer varies according to subspecies, sex, age, popu-
lation, and various environmental factors (e.g., Puputti and Niskanen 2009; Wein-
stock 1997; Weladji and Holand 2006). Recent studies have shown that although the
morphologies and body proportions of the subspecies extensively overlap (Nieminen
and Helle 1980), there are several differences in skeletal morphology according to
not only subspecies and sex, but also human influence in the domestication process
(Pelletier etal. 2020, 2021a, b). The postcranial skeletal elements of wild forest rein-
deer are generally significantly larger than those of mountain reindeer and have more
robust bony epiphyses. Moreover, due to the sexual dimorphism of the reindeer,
males have significantly more massive skeletal elements, with larger epiphyses than
females, which tend to have a slenderer skeletal morphology (Pelletier etal. 2020,
2021a, b). Furthermore, castration affects the size and proportions of those long
bones that fuse after the age at which the individual is castrated (van den Berg etal.
in press). Reduced mobility due to captivity also leads to decreased body size with-
out directed selection (Pelletier etal. 2020; 2021a), a phenomenon also observed in
other domestic species (e.g., Zohary etal. 1998). Although reindeer have never been
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kept in complete captivity, apart from zoo-kept individuals, practices such as part-
time penning and other human-influenced changes in reindeer mobility patterns may
cause skeletal morphology changes. There also are other functional changes such
as working that affect skeletal morphology: Bone cross-sectional properties differ
between working and non-working reindeer; and working reindeer also tend to be
larger and more robust than non-working reindeer, although the latter is a product of
the selection of suitable individuals for training, not domestication-related selection
pressure (Niinimäki etal. 2021; Pelletier etal. 2020, 2021b).
Previous Research onReindeer Domestication inFennoscandia
Reindeer have been hunted by various human groups since the Paleolithic period,
with hunting practices varying with local knowledge, reindeer behavior, and the
local landscape (Helskog 2011a). In Fennoscandia, wild reindeer were hunted from
the Mesolithic until the early 19th century as part of varying subsistence patterns
(Halinen 2005, pp. 82–94; Helskog 2011b; Lundmark 1982, p. 161; Rankama and
Ukkonen 2001; Virrankoski 1973, pp. 271–272). For example, pitfall systems for
catching wild reindeer are known throughout prehistory in northern Fennoscandia,
with peaks in the intensity of their use in the Iron Age and early medieval period
(Hennius 2020; Jordhøy 2008). Although rock art dating from the Mesolithic depicts
enclosures, reindeer tied to a rope, and people riding reindeer, it is more likely to
depict hunting techniques, rituals, and mythology than incipient domestication (Hel-
skog 2011b, 2012).
Domesticated reindeer have been herded in multiple ways by many cultural
groups across northern Eurasia. Today, reindeer-herding peoples exist in the Rus-
sian Far East, Mongolia, Siberia, and northern Fennoscandia (Helskog 2011a). In
northern Fennoscandia, reindeer herding is practiced by the Indigenous Sámi of
Finland, Sweden, Norway, and northwestern Russia. In Finland, reindeer herding is
also practiced by ethnic Finns. Studied for more than 100 years by archaeologists,
historians, and ethnographers, reindeer domestication and the adoption of reindeer
herding in northern Eurasia is one of the central questions in the archaeology of
the area (Kortesalmi 2008, pp. 20–21; Stépanoff 2017; Storli 1996). Historical stud-
ies of the development of reindeer herding have mostly focused on the post-16th
century period (e.g., Hultblad 1968; Kortesalmi 2008; Lundmark 1982; Tegengren
1952). The analysis of changes in settlement patterns and their social implications
for the development or herding societies (e.g., Aronsson 1991; Bergman etal. 2013;
Halinen etal. 2013; Hedman etal. 2015; Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021) have been
especially prominent avenues of archaeological research on the matter in the Fen-
noscandian research tradition. Many studies of reindeer domestication also typically
combine ethnographic, historical, and archaeological sources (e.g., Bjørklund 2013;
Wallerström 2000). Although these approaches have produced a general chronology
of events, many questions about the early stages of reindeer domestication and rein-
deer-herding practices remain unresolved.
The first piece of historical evidence to describe domesticated reindeer is usu-
ally considered to be Ohthere’s account to King Alfred the Great in England in AD
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890, which mentions among Ohthere’s possessions tame deer and decoy or draught
reindeer (Bately 2007, p. 46). In addition to this piece of historical evidence, archae-
ological analysis of habitation patterns, in particular the emergence of so-called
stállo sites in the Scandinavian mountains, have been used to argue that incipient
domestication was underway between AD 700 and AD 1000 (Bergman etal. 2013;
Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021). In addition, the so-called hearth row sites (also rec-
tangular hearth sites), dating to ca. AD 600/700–1300 and situated in inland north-
ern Fennoscandia, are considered by most researchers to be cold-season settlements
of reindeer herders, although the evidence is ambiguous and may also point to the
importance of hunting and fishing (Bergman etal. 2013; Halinen etal. 2013; Hed-
man etal. 2015; Olsen 2019; Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021). Researchers have also
argued that the roots of the family-based siida organization of Sámi society can be
traced back to this period (Bergman etal. 2013; Halinen etal. 2013; Hedman etal.
Multiple sources of evidence indicate that a clear shift to larger-scale reindeer
herding occurred between AD 1400 and AD 1600. Settlement pattern changes indi-
cate mobile pastoralism (Bergman etal. 2013; Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021). At
the same time, analysis of ancient mtDNA from sites across northern Fennoscan-
dia similarly implies a replacement of other haplotypes by haplotypes common in
modern domesticated reindeer (Bjørnstad etal. 2012; Heino etal. 2021; Røed etal.
2018). Furthermore, it seems that the family-based siida system of Sámi society was
established at this time (Bergman etal. 2013).
The analysis of faunal assemblages has produced inconclusive or mixed results.
Reindeer age profiles from Sámi dwelling sites dating to ca. AD 1000–1650 indi-
cate that mainly adult individuals were slaughtered, with some differences between
sites (Hambleton and Rowley-Conwy 1997; Harlin etal. 2019; Hedman etal. 2015;
Vretemark 2019). This corresponds to the practices employed in later traditional
reindeer herding, in which mostly adult individuals were slaughtered (e.g., Itkonen
1948, p. 259; Korhonen 2008, p. 137). However, the employment of selective hunt-
ing strategies such as stalking adult males with the aid of a female reindeer (Itkonen
1948, p. 18) cannot be ruled out as an explanation for the adult-dominated age pro-
files. An analysis of skeletal frequencies shows that all parts of the reindeer carcass
were present at the dwelling sites (Hambleton and Rowley-Conwy 1997; Harlin etal.
2019; Hedman etal. 2015; Vretemark 2019). Even representation of skeletal ele-
ments may indicate that the animals were slaughtered close to or on the site, which
may in turn mean that the animals originated in domestic herds instead of wild ani-
mals hunted and processed at a distance from the dwelling site (Hedman etal. 2015;
Indrelid and Hufthammer 2011). It is also likely that many Sámi communities prac-
ticed a mixed subsistence of small-scale herding, hunting, and fishing (e.g., Harlin
etal. 2019; Vretemark 2019), in which case the reindeer bone assemblages would
represent a mix of domesticated and wild reindeer.
The early herders’ reindeer-herding practices remain relatively unclear until his-
torical sources start shedding light on the matter from the 16th century onward. In
A Description of the Northern Peoples, Magnus (1996 [1555]) describes reindeer
milking and draught reindeer use, and a mobile pastoralism “like that practiced by
sheepherders elsewhere.” From the 17th century, the number of historical sources
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Journal of Archaeological Research
on reindeer herding increases. The Crown of Sweden started to undertake rein-
deer counts for taxation needs from the early 17th century. These counts show a
geographical variation in reindeer-herding practices: Large reindeer herds of more
than 100 individuals were common in the mountain areas, but in the forest and lake
areas of present-day Finland, reindeer herders were few, and the herds were small
at ten reindeer or fewer (Hultblad 1968; Kortesalmi 2008, pp. 22–23). There is also
increasing if patchy information about reindeer-herding practices. The 17th-to-18th
century sources mention reindeer milking, draught and cargo reindeer use, care-
intensive herding, and mobile pastoralism, as well as the different adaptations of the
mountain and forest Sámi (Leem 1956 [1767]; von Linné 1969 [1732]; Rheen 1897
[1671]; Schefferus 1979 [1674]; Tornaeus 1900 [1672]).
Historical sources show a wide variation in the reindeer herding and overall sub-
sistence practices of the Sámi. Historical and archaeological sources imply that the
Sámi population in eastern Fennoscandia relied on a mixed subsistence strategy of
hunting, fishing, gathering, and small-scale reindeer herding, whereas in the moun-
tain areas, large-scale mobile pastoralism was dominant (e.g., Bergman etal. 2013;
Hansen and Olsen 2014, p. 231; Harlin etal. 2019; Hultblad 1968; Lundmark 1982).
Other regional variations include lake fishing, important in the interior (Hansen and
Olsen 2014, pp. 188–191; Itkonen 1948, pp. 536–540), marine hunting, and fishing
coupled with small-scale agriculture on the northern coast of Norway (Hansen and
Olsen 2014, p. 174), and a combination of farming and fishing in the more south-
ern coastal areas (Hansen and Olsen 2014, pp. 186–188). Sheep or goat husbandry
was incorporated into the livelihood of the Sámi in Norway possibly in the Viking
period, more certainly in the early medieval period, and cattle and sheep husbandry
were part of the livelihood of the Sámi in fertile river valleys from the 18th century
(Hansen and Olsen 2014, pp. 177, 190–200).
Modern transformations in reindeer-herding practices include state border clo-
sures in the late 19th century, which altered the traditional seasonal mobility pat-
terns of many Sámi communities (e.g., Heikkinen etal. 2012). In the 20th century,
Fennoscandian reindeer herding was characterized by the free-ranging system, in
which the reindeer are corralled only twice a year (Helle and Jaakkola 2008). Herd-
ing practices shifted from the multipurpose herd toward meat production (Holand
2007). In addition, the decrease in availability of lichen pastures and arboreal lichens
due to border closures and forestry practices led to growing dependence on supple-
mentary winter feeding during the 20th century (Helle and Jaakkola 2008). Today,
reindeer herding is under pressure from other competing land use (forestry, min-
ing, energy production, nature protection, predator conservation, and tourism), an
increasing number of predators, rising costs, a decreasing and aging workforce, and
the effects of climate change on the annual cycle of reindeer herding; technological
changes such as snowmobiles and GPS also have changed herding practices (Sarkki
etal. 2018). The colonial legacy of nation-states remains in the reindeer-herding
area, as land and resource use continue to be contested between the Sámi and the
respective states (e.g., Brännström 2020).
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Animal Feeding inEarly Reindeer Herding
Animal feeding is a type of human–animal interaction that often characterizes the
domestication relationship, although it also occurs between people and undomesti-
cated species. It is even possible that additional food provided by the human asso-
ciation is the driving force of the domestication of species such as the dog, which
probably entered the domestication relationship through the commensal pathway
(Zeder 2012). Animal feeding practices in domestication processes and in animal
husbandry practices have been studied archaeologically through stable isotope anal-
yses indicative of trophic level and other changes in the animals’ diets (e.g., Gillis
etal. 2013; Pickard etal. 2017). Human influence in the diets and foraging behav-
ior of domesticated animals is not restricted to the addition of specific foodstuffs
to animals’ diets but can also be understood in the broader, landscape-level context
of human influence over animal foraging patterns in pastoral systems, for example
(Hörnberg etal. 2018; Miller and Makarewicz 2019).
In natural conditions, reindeer consume a seasonally variable diet consisting of
more than 200 plant species, as well as mushrooms and lichens. In the summer, they
consume mostly green vegetation, whereas lichen is their main food in the winter,
making up about two-thirds of the vegetable mass consumed (Bezard etal. 2015;
Nieminen and Heiskari 1989). Domesticated reindeer have probably never been
kept in full captivity necessitating a full-time feeding regime. Instead, people have
affected their foraging patterns by guiding them to fresh pastures (Helle and Jaak-
kola 2008), maintaining lichen pastures with the aid of recurrent fires (Hörnberg
etal. 2018), and giving them supplementary food in times of need and for taming
specific individuals (Itkonen 1948, pp. 83–84; Korhonen 2008, p. 42; Soppela etal.
2020). In early 20th-century reindeer herding, reindeer were given supplementary
fodder consisting of dried lichens, branches, grasses, and sedges (Itkonen 1948, pp.
83–84; Korhonen 2008, p. 42). Supplementary feeding was practiced especially dur-
ing times when the reindeer had difficulty finding food themselves, when a thick
crust formed on the snow and made digging for lichen under the snow difficult
(Itkonen 1948, pp. 83–84; Korhonen 2008, p. 42). In addition, feeding may have
served other purposes related to the relationships between herders and reindeer;
today’s reindeer herders use feeding to establish a trusting relationship with rein-
deer, help with taming and training of reindeer, keep the reindeer in good condition,
and monitor their well-being (Salmi etal. 2022).
New archaeological evidence of reindeer feeding has been obtained through sta-
ble isotope analysis and an analysis of feeding behavior-related physical activity
patterns (Fjellström etal. 2020; Núñez etal. 2020; Salmi etal. 2020a; Salmi and
Niinimäki 2021). Lichen is rich in carbohydrates but poor in protein (Nieminen and
Heiskari 1989; Soppela etal. 2008), and the nitrogen (δ15N) values of lichens are
lower than those of leafy trees, grasses, and sedges in subarctic and arctic environ-
ments (e.g., Beck and Mayr 2012; Gustine etal. 2012; Liu etal. 2018; Michelsen
etal. 1998; Skrzypek etal. 2015). This is reflected in the stable isotope values of
reindeer bone tissue, which is expected to be relatively low in nitrogen and high
in carbon in reindeer feeding mostly on lichen (Britton 2009; Evans 2007, p. 85;
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Journal of Archaeological Research
Fjellström etal. 2020). Based on the differences in the nitrogen and carbon values
in the different foods the reindeer consume, these values may reflect differences in
reindeer diet and possibly, human influences on it (Fjellström etal. 2020; Salmi
etal. 2020a; Takken Beijersbergen etal. 2021). In particular, it has been argued that
especially relatively high values of nitrogen (δ15N) reflect foddering in the reindeer,
as the replacement of low-nitrogen lichens in the winter diet with grasses, shrubs,
and dried tree branches provided by humans would affect the stable isotope compo-
sition of the winter diet (Fjellström etal. 2020; Salmi etal. 2020a). However, other
factors that affect nitrogen values in reindeer bone, antler, and teeth, such as feeding
in different environments (e.g., boreal forest vs. tundra), starvation, seasonal varia-
tions in antler shedding between the sexes, a young age (before weaning at ca. 67
months of age) (e.g., Barboza and Parker 2006; Parker etal. 2005; Takken Beijers-
bergen etal. 2021), and their effects must be considered when analyzing the stable
isotope values of reindeer tissue samples.
Stable isotope values have been analyzed for reindeer bone samples from Sámi
dwelling sites, offering places, and marketplaces dating from the 11th to the 20th
centuries (Fjellström etal. 2020; Núñez etal. 2020; Salmi etal. 2020a) (Fig.2). The
stable isotope values show considerable variation between and within sites (Fjell-
ström etal. 2020; Núñez etal. 2020; Salmi etal. 2020a). Some of the nitrogen val-
ues clearly fell in the range typical of the bone tissue of adult, non-fed reindeer in the
area, ca. 1–3.5 ‰, while others were significantly elevated, between ca. 3.5–6 ‰
(Fjellström etal. 2020; Núñez etal. 2020; Salmi etal. 2020a). The nitrogen values
seem not only to reflect the environmental setting, because elevated nitrogen values
were observed on sites located in both alpine and boreal vegetation zones (Fig.2A).
Moreover, no major temporal trends are observable, because samples with elevated
nitrogen values date to the entire studied period (Fig.2B). The samples were taken
from individuals assessed as adults or past weaning age, which excludes the possible
effects of lactation on elevated nitrogen values. It is therefore possible that the diets
of at least some of the sampled individuals with elevated nitrogen values were influ-
enced by people in a similar manner to those documented in ethnographic sources.
The earliest samples with elevated nitrogen values were date to between the 11th
and 13th centuries and originated in the offering places of Unna Saiva and Udtjäure
in Sweden (Salmi etal. 2020a), as well as the dwelling site of Vivallen (Fjellström
etal. 2020).
A small data set of physical activity-related skeletal changes backs the conclu-
sion that some of the reindeer offered specifically at Unna Saiva received supple-
mentary winter fodder (Salmi and Niinimäki 2021). Feeding behavior, specifically
digging for lichen under the snow in the winter with the aid of the repetitive move-
ment of the elbow joint, affects muscle attachment sites in that joint to the degree
that fed reindeer are distinguishable from non-fed reindeer in terms of entheseal site
scores (Niinimäki and Salmi 2016). Reindeer offered at Unna Saiva exhibited skel-
etal markers indicative of a low degree of lichen-digging behavior, probably due to
supplementary winter feeding (Salmi and Niinimäki 2021).
Regarding ritual practices, reindeer with human-altered diets were offered
at roughly the same time and on the same sites with reindeer individuals with no
human-influenced changes in their diet (Salmi etal. 2020a). The variability of the
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Fig. 2 Stable isotope values of nitrogen (δ15N) and carbon (δ13C) in reindeer bone samples from Sámi
sites. Data from Fjellström etal. (2020) and Salmi et al. (2020a). Site dating is used as dates for sam-
ples from the Vivallen dwelling site, Arjeplog marketplace, and Silbojokk mining community (Fjellström
etal. 2020). Because offering places are often multi-period sites, dates are presented only for those sam-
ples from offering places that were directly radiocarbon dated (Salmi etal. 2020a)
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Journal of Archaeological Research
carbon and nitrogen values throughout the studied period and across sites implies
that domesticated reindeer were probably offered along with wild reindeer (Núñez
etal. 2020; Salmi etal. 2020a). Reindeer supplementary feeding seems to have been
part of early reindeer-herding practice, but it was not universal among Sámi reindeer
herders. Rather, it was probably practiced locally and at times of need. It is also
possible that the fed animals were specific individuals, for example, those intended
for draught reindeer training and kept in closer human contact than other reindeer.
It is also likely that feeding was part of the establishing and maintaining of trust
and closeness between herders and reindeer, and that the contacts related to reindeer
feeding were occasions for the herders to monitor the animals’ well-being.
Working withReindeer
Traction, along with wool and milk, is one of the secondary products of animal domes-
tication. The role of secondary products, as opposed to primary products such as meat
and hides, in animal domestication has been debated since Sherratt (1981) coined the
term “secondary product revolution,” and it seems evident that the role of primary
versus secondary products has varied between domestication processes and regions
where domesticates were integrated into human economies (Greenfield 2010; Marcin-
iak 2011). The use of animals for traction in the past can be approached via the analy-
sis of working-related skeletal changes, as well as material culture (Greenfield 2010).
Reindeer have worked together with people for millennia, and the central role of
working reindeer in reindeer domestication and early reindeer herding of the Sámi
has been hypothesized (e.g., Bately 2007, p. 46; Bjørklund 2013; Ingold 1986).
Material culture related to draught use is often ambiguous, because the same har-
nessing and traction technology may have been used for several species (e.g., rein-
deer, humans, or dogs). Sled runners dating from the Mesolithic onward have been
discovered in northern Fennoscandia (Kuokkanen 2000). Sled runners dating to
1500 BC and resembling those in later Sámi sleds have been found in northwest
Russia (Murashkin etal. 2016). Harness parts dating to between ca. 200 BC and AD
160 and resembling those the Nenets use for training draught reindeer have been
found on the Yamal Peninsula (Losey etal. 2021). They occur at the same time as
the increase in portable imagery depicting reindeer (Nomokonova etal. 2021). In
northern Fennoscandia, sleds similar to later Sámi reindeer sleds have been discov-
ered in graves dating from the 10th century onward (Svestad 2018). Undated rein-
deer harness parts from medieval and early modern Sámi dwelling sites are evidence
of the use of draught reindeer (Carpelan 1991, 1993), as are 16th century and later
historical sources describing the use of draught and cargo reindeer (e.g., Magnus
1996 [1555], Rheen 1897 [1671]; Schefferus 1979 [1674]; Tornaeus 1900 [1672]).
New methodological possibilities of analyzing the early use of working rein-
deer have emerged through the analysis of working-related skeletal changes such
as pathological lesions and entheseal changes in the reindeer skeleton (Salmi etal.
2020b). These skeletal markers reflect the habitual physical activities and extra load-
ing associated with working the reindeer and form clear patterns of skeletal changes
that are different from non-working reindeer (Salmi etal. 2020b). Working reindeer
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Journal of Archaeological Research
1 3
typically have joint diseases such as new bone growth, articular surface erosion and
lipping, and joint fusion, particularly in the vertebrae, phalanges, and tarsal bones,
that form in response to the extra stress and loading caused by working. Although
joint disease also can occur in aging animals in the wild, the combined analysis of
frequency, severity, and skeletal distribution of the changes can be indicative of
working (Salmi etal. 2020b).
An analysis of these skeletal markers in reindeer remains from three Sámi dwell-
ing sites in northern Finland dating to the 14th to 18th centuries indicated that
working animals were already integrated into the economy of the Sámi residing
in northern Finland by the 14th century (Salmi etal. 2021). An analysis of paleo-
pathological lesions in reindeer bones in the faunal assemblages from three sites,
Juikenttä, Nukkumajoki, and Autiokenttä, revealed new bone growth, articular sur-
face lipping, and bone fusion, particularly in the phalanges, vertebrae, tarsal bones,
and humerus (Salmi etal. 2021). Based on location of the lesions in the same skel-
etal elements as in modern working reindeer, working is the probable cause for the
observed pattern (Fig.3). Moreover, the severity of the phalangeal pathologies in
the archaeological assemblages resembled that of modern working reindeer, further
supporting the hypothesis that the pathologies were related to working (Salmi etal.
2021). The pattern was especially clear for Juikenttä and Nukkumajoki, with larger
faunal assemblages, but pathological specimens were also discovered in Aution-
kenttä (Salmi etal. 2021).
Osteometric analysis of the reindeer bones from these three assemblages indi-
cates that both subspecies of reindeer, R. t. tarandus and R. t. fennicus, were present.
Although osteometric analysis is not very reliable at identifying individual skeletal
elements from reindeer subspecies due to the extensive overlap in size (Puputti and
Niskanen 2009), the overall size range of the archaeological specimens compared
with modern specimens implied the presence of both subspecies (Salmi etal. 2021).
The pathologies were mostly observed in skeletal elements in the middle or upper
part of the size range, primarily reflecting the use of large, castrated males for trac-
tion (Salmi etal. 2021). The oldest samples with working-related pathologies date
to the late 13th and 14th centuries, while most of them date between AD 1400 and
1700 (Salmi etal. 2021).
The analysis of working-related skeletal lesions in the assemblages in associa-
tion with radiocarbon dates, reindeer bone osteometric measurements, and species
diversities of the assemblages showed that wild reindeer hunting and other hunting
activities were probably practiced by the Sámi residing in these sites throughout the
period of occupation (Salmi et al. 2021). Small-scale reindeer herding, including
working reindeer, was integrated into mixed subsistence patterns that also included
hunting, fowling, and fishing (Harlin etal. 2019; Salmi etal. 2021). The results con-
firm the early roots of the forest Sámi subsistence pattern of small-scale reindeer
herding combined with hunting, fishing, and gathering (Fjellström 1986; Hansen
and Olsen 2014, pp. 192–95; Hultblad 1968; Kortesalmi 2008, p. 26; Paulaharju
1922). The archaeological faunal assemblages analyzed thus far do not go back far
enough in time to precisely define the role of draught reindeer in incipient reindeer
domestication among the Sámi. However, it is possible that the subsistence adapta-
tion observed at the studied sites from the 14th century onward resembles that of
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Journal of Archaeological Research
the early reindeer herders, because early reindeer herders employed a similar set
of mixed subsistence strategies as the Sámi in the studied sites (e.g., Halinen etal.
2013; Hedman etal. 2015; Vretemark 2019).
Working relationships between people and reindeer are indicative of domestica-
tion, but they are also embedded in interpersonal interspecies learning and coop-
eration processes and have important implications for human–reindeer relationships.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Sámi used reindeer to pull and carry loads
(Itkonen 1948, pp. 388–412; Näkkäläjärvi and Pennanen 2000). Draught and cargo
reindeer were used to transport people and their possessions during seasonal migra-
tions and reindeer-herding tasks (Itkonen 1948, pp. 388–412; Korhonen 2008, p. 58).
Fig. 3 Relative abundances of skeletal elements of all the skeletal elements with pathological lesions in
archaeological assemblages from Juikenttä, Nukkumajoki, and Autiokenttä. Data from Salmi etal. 2021
(illustration by A. Salmi)
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Today, reindeer herders train reindeer for tourism and competitive racing (Soppela
etal. 2020). Working reindeer are usually castrated males, which are selected for
training and castrated at the age of three to four years (Itkonen 1948, pp. 419–422).
The training, taking place over several seasons, is a two-way interspecies commu-
nication and learning process, in which reindeer personality and personhood play
crucial parts (Soppela etal. 2020; Vuojala-Magga 2010). Itkonen (1948, pp. 422),
an ethnographer, reported that some reindeer were faster to learn than others, and
that the personality and teaching style of the trainer affected both how the reindeer
learned and how good a transportation reindeer it became. Reindeer are selected for
draught training based on their appearance and physical abilities, but above all for
their personality (Soppela etal. 2020). The consideration of traditional knowledge
of reindeer herders affords new opportunities to reflect on the nature of human–rein-
deer relationships in past working reindeer training and use. The interspecies learn-
ing and communication experiences likely included similar practices, perceptions,
and sensory experiences to those of today, although their exact forms have changed
over time according to the specifics of the working and training practices and frames
of thinking about non-human animals and their personhood.
Reindeer‑Herding Landscapes andArchitectures
The daily chores of the reindeer herders are always performed in specific land-
scapes. These landscapes and their architectural and natural features, as well as the
tasks performed in them, form the taskscapes and landscapes of reindeer herding. A
taskscape consists of interrelated tasks, everyday activities that construct the lived-
in worlds of human and non-human actors and their temporalities (Ingold 1993, p.
158, 1997, pp. 29–30; Mazzullo and Ingold 2008). Similarly, domestication has also
been described as a process whereby both humans and animals modify their behav-
ior to learn to live together in a shared landscape (Stépanoff 2017). Domestication
relationship is played out and constructed using structures and architectures such as
tethers and enclosures (Anderson etal. 2017a).
The landscapes of early reindeer herding are indicative of the ways reindeer
herding was incorporated into the daily lives of the Sámi. Sámi reindeer-herding
practices have varied widely temporally and spatially, but as a coarse generaliza-
tion, the mobility patterns of the Sámi of the historical period have been divided
into forest and mountain Sámi patterns (e.g., Fjellström 1986). The mountain Sámi
migrated between different ecological zones seasonally, the main migrations being
between the taiga in the winter and mountains in the summer. On the other hand,
the forest Sámi mobility pattern consisted of hunting, fishing, and herding activi-
ties at different locations in the landscape (e.g., Fjellström 1986, p. 149; Itkonen
1948, p. 93; Rheen 1897 [1671]). Recent GIS analyses focusing on the landscapes
and taskscapes of the early reindeer herders indicate that many Sámi communities
practiced small-scale reindeer herding in a mixed hunter–herder economy with a
nuanced combination of residential and logistical mobilities between ca. AD 600
and AD 1400 (Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021). Reindeer feeding and pasture rota-
tion needs also affected people’s lives, as the analysis of the settlement patterns of
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Journal of Archaeological Research
the early reindeer herders implies that the proximity of good-quality lichen pastures
and bogs was already an important factor in the selection of the winter settlement
sites between AD 900 and AD 1300 (Halinen etal. 2013; Hedman etal. 2015; Seit-
sonen and Viljanmaa 2021). From the 15th century onward, major changes in site
locations and features indicate a transition to nomadic pastoralism with high resi-
dential mobility (Halinen 2016; Mulk 1994; Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021). At this
time, the settlement pattern changed to temporary settlements in various environ-
ments (Bergman etal. 2013; Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021).
The mobilities of reindeer and their herders have also been approached recently
with the aid of stable isotope analysis. The variations of values of stable isotopes of
carbon (δ13C), nitrogen (δ15N), and sulfur (δ34S) imply different patterns of mobili-
ties of people and reindeer (Fjellström etal. 2020; Salmi etal. 2020a). The sites
studied thus far vary widely in dating, location, and character, which is why any
conclusions about the relationship of mobilities, settlement patterns, and stable iso-
topes are preliminary at this point. Reindeer bone samples from the 11th to 13th
century settlement in Vivallen showed a relatively high variation of stable isotope
values, probably reflecting the combination of trade contacts and a mobile way of
life (Fjellström etal. 2020). The low variation in the stable isotope values of rein-
deer bone samples from the settlement of the 17th to 18th century mining commu-
nity in Silbojokk probably reflect the fact that the mining community’s food was
procured from the surrounding area (Fjellström etal. 2020). The high variation in
the stable isotope values from reindeer bone samples from the marketplace in Arje-
plog is probably related to the role of the marketplace as a place of trade and social
exchange (Fjellström etal. 2020). For offering places, the variation in stable isotope
values indicates different mobility patterns. Usually, samples from a single offering
place are clustered together, indicating that most sites were used mainly by local
communities. However, there also were sites with reindeer bone samples with broad
isotopic variation: Unna Saiva and Viddjavárri were communal sites likely visited
by people from various home regions (Salmi etal. 2020a). Both offering places were
large and well known, with rich archaeological finds indicating wide contact net-
works (Hallström 1932; Manker 1957, pp. 45–52, 167–168; Serning 1956, pp. 87,
119–133). The reindeer offered at Unna Saiva and Viddjavárri were therefore proba-
bly domesticated reindeer accompanying people from different areas on their annual
migrations between seasonal habitations.
The use of structures and architectures such as fences and enclosures in various
reindeer-herding tasks is evident in ethnographic accounts of 19th century and later
reindeer herding (e.g., Itkonen 1948; Korhonen 2008). Enclosures were built in con-
nection with habitation sites for milking, supplementary feeding, and keeping rein-
deer out of the yard (Korhonen 2008, pp. 43–44; Norstedt etal. 2017). Fences were
utilized to restrict the movements of reindeer across national and community bor-
ders, gather reindeer for counting, marking, and castration, and selecting animals for
slaughter in the fall (Korhonen 2008, p. 74; Norstedt etal. 2017) (Fig.4). However,
there is relatively little ancient evidence of such structures in connection with early
reindeer herding of the Sámi.
It is possible that the ancient Sámi herders gathered reindeer without fences,
using people, dogs, and bellwethers, or natural features such as gorges (Korhonen
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Journal of Archaeological Research
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2008, pp. 72–73). On the other hand, subfossil finds of axe-cut trees that date to ca.
AD 600–1200 and may have been parts of fence structures have been discovered in
the far north of Finland (Eronen etal. 1994; Zetterberg etal. 1994). While research-
ers have suggested that these finds were wild reindeer hunting fences (Eronen etal.
1994; Zetterberg etal. 1994), the possibility remains that they were related to the
handling of domesticated reindeer. Moreover, dendrochronological evidence indi-
cates that barrier fences constructed of local materials such as whole trees and boul-
ders were used from the mid-18th century onward in forested areas of Sweden (Nor-
stedt etal. 2017). Light and small fence structures made of branches are already
described in 18th century historical sources (Leem 1956 [1767]). Fences also were
constructed of stone, logs, or poles (Korhonen 2008, pp. 85–96; Norstedt et al.
Fig. 4 Reindeer fence, Muonio, Finland (photo by Ilmari Manninen, 1929, Finnish Heritage Agency,
Kansatieteen Kuvakokoelma)
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Journal of Archaeological Research
2017). Based on soil chemical evidence, small herds of reindeer may have been kept
in enclosures at or near settlement sites between AD 900 and AD 1300 (Jerand and
Linderholm 2019). Similar practices of keeping small herds close to the settlement
have been documented in Siberia during the first millennium AD (Anderson etal.
2019). Architectures such as enclosures and fences were meeting points for rein-
deer and people, points of intimacy and care in the landscape shared by people and
domesticated reindeer (Anderson etal. 2017a, 2019; Birke 2017). Although little
can be said about the temporalities of these architectures based on current knowl-
edge, there seem to have been various meeting points such as enclosures, passage-
ways, and fences for the Sámi and domesticated reindeer in the landscape since the
Late Iron Age (Jerand and Linderholm 2019; Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021).
Spiritual Entanglements
In addition to everyday animal management practices, human–reindeer entangle-
ments were played out in the religious ritual of the Sámi. In the Sámi worldview,
ritual and subsistence activities were not separate but deeply intertwined spheres of
life: everyday practices were imbued with spiritual meaning, and spiritual means
were used to secure success in subsistence activities (Äikäs etal. 2009). The Sámi
worldview was characterized by the idea of a reciprocal relationship between
humans, non-humans, and the supernatural (Helander-Renvall 2010). People com-
municated with deities and spirits of the land and animals by giving offerings such
as animals and animal body parts, metal objects, alcohol, and tobacco at sacred sites
(Manker 1957; Mebius 2003, pp. 148–153; Serning 1956; Zachrisson 1984) (Fig.5).
Reindeer feature prominently in the archaeological assemblages from Sámi offer-
ing places. Faunal assemblages analyzed from these sites are usually dominated by
reindeer bones, especially antlers, crania, and the uppermost vertebrae (Salmi etal.
2018). The presence of postcranial elements, especially marrow-split long bones,
indicates that in addition to antlers and crania, reindeer meat and marrow were
sometimes consumed as part of the offering ritual (Salmi etal. 2011). The offered
reindeer were usually large individuals, probably males, based on osteometric analy-
ses (Salmi etal. 2015). The predominance of heads of large prime-age male indi-
viduals is probably related to the impressive antlers of these individuals, emphasiz-
ing the symbolic relationship between reindeer antlers and the regeneration of the
reindeer species in the Sámi worldview (Olofsson 2010; Salmi etal. 2015).
While the Samí began to make offerings of wild animals such as brown bears and
swans ca. AD 500–700, the earliest reindeer offerings date to the late 12th and early
13th centuries (Salmi etal. 2015, 2018). At that time, reindeer herding was prob-
ably practiced by some Sámi communities at offering places in a vast geographical
area of northern Fennoscandia (Salmi et al. 2018; see also Bergman etal. 2013;
Hedman etal. 2015). Settlement patterns indicate that wild reindeer hunting con-
tinued to affect habitation patterns (Halinen etal. 2013; Hedman etal. 2015; Seit-
sonen and Viljanmaa 2021). The presence of wild mammal and bird bones in faunal
assemblages (Hedman etal. 2015) further emphasizes the importance of hunting in
this period. On the other hand, settlement patterns also may have been affected by
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Journal of Archaeological Research
1 3
small-scale reindeer herding; the age profiles of reindeer bones from archaeological
sites, though not reliable indicators of hunting versus herding, imply that small-scale
herding was practiced (Hedman etal. 2015). The role of early reindeer herding at
the time that offerings of reindeer began to be made is a matter of debate, although
emerging evidence indicates that both wild reindeer hunting and reindeer herding
were then ritually important for the Sámi (Heino etal. 2021; Salmi etal. 2020a).
Based on ancient mtDNA, the reindeer offered in Finland between AD 1200 and AD
1400 were probably wild (Heino etal. 2021), whereas stable isotope analysis has
shown that reindeer killed at offering places in Sweden beginning in 13th century
were domesticated with human-influenced changes in their diet (Salmi etal. 2020a).
Between AD 1400 and AD 1650, the number of reindeer at Sámi offering places
in Finland, Sweden, and Norway peaked (Salmi etal. 2018). There is evidence of a
growing emphasis on reindeer herding at this time. Reindeer herding was the main
source of livelihood and the basis of social organization for many Sámi commu-
nities, especially those residing in mountainous areas (e.g., Bergman etal. 2013),
although hunting, fishing, and gathering remained the main sources of livelihood
for many Sámi communities, especially the forest Sámi (Harlin etal. 2019). The
ritual importance of domesticated reindeer also increased at this time. Stable iso-
tope analyses indicate that reindeer bones at offering places in Finland and Swe-
den were from domesticated individuals (Salmi etal. 2020a), and that the relative
abundance of domesticated reindeer as offerings grew (Núñez etal. 2020). Based on
ancient mtDNA, domesticated reindeer were first part of ritual assemblages at offer-
ing places in Finland at this time (Heino etal. 2021) (Fig.6).
Fig. 5 Sieiddakeädgi offering site in Utsjoki, Finland (photo by A. Salmi)
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Journal of Archaeological Research
After 1650, the importance of animal offering rituals decreased, although some
animal bone finds are dated to after AD 1650 (Salmi etal. 2018). This decrease was
probably the result of the intensifying Christianization of the Sámi, especially from
the 18th century (Äikäs and Salmi 2015; Kylli 2012). However, offering places still
retained their meaning, as is testified by the oral tradition attached to these places
and several 19th-to-21st century finds such as bottle glass, coins, and the skulls of
freshly killed reindeer (Äikäs and Salmi 2015). Today, many offering places are
important to various users such as local communities, neo-pagans, and the tourism
industry (Äikäs and Spangen 2016).
The investigation of the entanglements of religious ritual and reindeer herding
reflects the multifaceted relationships between humans, reindeer, the land, and the
supernatural among the Sámi. For the period between ca. AD 1200 and AD 1400,
the different lines of archaeological evidence imply that emerging reindeer herding
was to some extent intertwined with changes in ritual practice, i.e., the beginning
of reindeer offerings, but that wild reindeer hunting was equally if not more impor-
tant during this early phase. The reindeer offerings given at this time were a means
to ensure success in both hunting and herding activities through ritual activity. The
growing economic and societal importance of reindeer herding between AD 1400
and 1650 was clearly reflected in the animal rituals at Sámi offering places. Despite
the differences between Sámi communities in terms of the emphasis on reindeer
herding, hunting, or fishing, the ritual importance of reindeer grew simultaneously
across northern Fennoscandia, which indicates there were shared ways of relat-
ing to the landscape and its resources among the Sámi practicing differing modes
of subsistence (Salmi etal. 2018). The connection between reindeer herding and
Fig. 6 Numbers of reindeer bone samples dated to AD 1200–1400, AD 1400–1650, and after AD 1650,
with numbers of specimens belonging to domesticated reindeer haplotypes (II and Ib) and other haplo-
types. Data from Salmi etal. (2018) and Heino etal. (2021) (illustration by A. Salmi)
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Journal of Archaeological Research
1 3
offering rituals is less evident in the post-AD 1650 archaeological evidence. It is
possible that the modern reindeer bones and other modern finds such as euro coins
are related to continuing ideas about the relationship between the land, animals, and
the supernatural, but they also may reflect neo-pagan or tourist performances at the
sites (Äikäs and Spangen 2016).
Chronology fortheEvolution ofReindeer‑Herding Practices
inNorthern Fennoscandia
The Hunter–Herder Phase (AD 700–1400)
Previous research on historical and archaeological sources has established that rein-
deer herding was probably incorporated into the economy of the Sámi of north-
ern Fennoscandia beginning in the Late Iron Age (ca. AD 600/700) with varying
regional developments (e.g., Bergman etal. 2013; Halinen etal. 2013; Hedman etal.
2015; Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021). Apart from the tentative mention of decoy
or draught reindeer by Ohthere (Bately 2007) and reasoning based on ethnographic
analogy (Bjørklund 2013), little is known of the reindeer-herding practices in this
early stage. Recent archaeological research on reindeer feeding, draught use, settle-
ment patterns, and the ritual practices of the Sámi has considerably deepened our
understanding of the integration of reindeer herding into the Sámi economy and
social life between AD 700 and AD 1400.
Evidence of care for the well-being of reindeer includes paleoenvironmental data
(Hörnberg etal. 2018) and settlement patterns (Halinen etal. 2013; Hedman etal.
2015), which indicate concern about the availability of lichen pastures. Moreover,
stable isotope and feeding behavior indicators show that reindeer herding was com-
plemented by feeding from at least the 13th century (Salmi etal. 2020a). Winter
feeding was probably supplemented with dried grasses, sedges, and branches when
hard-covered snow prevented reindeer from digging for lichen, and/or feeding con-
nected with taming individuals selected for draught training (Salmi etal. 2020a;
Soppela etal. 2020). Evidence of reindeer feeding from the 13th to 14th century
has been gathered from offering places in northern Sweden. There is also tentative
evidence of fence structures and corralling as part of early reindeer herding (Eronen
etal. 1994; Jerand and Linderholm 2019; Zetterberg etal. 1994). Although archaeo-
logical evidence does not indicate the extent and reason for the use of fences and
enclosures, they were used for multiple purposes such as milking, supplemental
feeding, and guiding the movements of wild and domesticated reindeer during hunt-
ing and roundups by later reindeer herders (Korhonen 2008; Norstedt etal. 2017).
Working-related skeletal markers identified in reindeer bone assemblages from Fin-
land show that reindeer were utilized for traction at from at least the 14th century,
and probably earlier (Salmi etal. 2021).
Reindeer herding was practiced alongside hunting before AD 1400: faunal assem-
blages dated to this period include bones of wild birds, mammals (including rein-
deer), and fish (Bjørnstad etal. 2012; Harlin et al. 2019; Salmi et al. 2021; Vre-
temark 2019); dwelling sites were located on grounds suitable for the hunting of
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1 3
Journal of Archaeological Research
wild game (Hedman etal. 2015); and offering rituals featured only wild birds, rein-
deer, and other mammals (Heino etal. 2021; Salmi etal. 2018). Recent GIS analyses
have revealed a complex pattern of mobilities related to hunting and herding, with
certain meeting points in the landscape for people and reindeer during their seasonal
migrations (Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021).
Based on this evidence, I argue that reindeer herding between ca. AD 700 and
1400 was probably small in scale, and the subsistence pattern of the herders is best
described as a mixed hunting and herding economy (Fig. 7). The proportion of
domesticated individuals out of the total number of reindeer in the faunal assem-
blage is impossible to evaluate osteologically, but stable isotope analyses indicate
only a small number of individuals with human-influenced diets (Núñez etal. 2020;
Salmi etal. 2020a), and samples analyzed for ancient mtDNA do not show domesti-
cated haplotypes before AD 1400 (Bjørnstad etal. 2012; Heino etal. 2021). Osteo-
metric analyses cannot measure precise numbers of wild and domesticated reindeer,
but they do indicate the presence of both (Salmi etal. 2021). These lines of evidence
indicate that domesticated herds were small and that wild reindeer hunting played a
major role in subsistence. The evidence for supplemental feeding, the use of rein-
deer for traction, and possible corralling imply close relationships with domesticated
herds or specific individuals. Personal bonds were created in association with daily
tasks such as feeding and training, involving care, cooperation, and interspecies
communication (Salmi etal. 2021). For example, the close bonds between people
and domesticated reindeer were manifested in ritual offerings of foddered individu-
als (Salmi etal. 2020a).
The underlying reasons behind the beginnings of reindeer herding among the
Sámi are not well understood, but it seems that its gradual adoption was connected
to several societal, economic, and environmental changes that took place in northern
Fennoscandia in the Late Iron Age. Trade contacts with European markets intensi-
fied in the ninth century, creating a heightened need for trade products such as furs,
hides, and fish (Kuusela etal. 2020). Climatic fluctuations like the Late Antique
Little Ice Age (ca. AD 536–660) and the subsequent climatic warming during the
Medieval Climate Anomaly (ca. AD 950–1250) may have instigated changes in
Fig. 7 Dating of archaeological evidence and the chronology of the development of reindeer herding
among the Sámi of northern Fennoscandia (illustration: by A. Salmi)
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Journal of Archaeological Research
1 3
resource use patterns (Seitsonen and Viljanmaa 2021). Such changes in economy
and resource use may have instigated the intensification of resource management
that gradually developed toward domestication. Hansen and Olsen (2014, pp.
203–214) have suggested that the management of wild reindeer hunting infrastruc-
ture, and especially hunting fence systems, may have led to the emergence of social
organization with leadership and the concept of ownership of resources including
animals. It is also possible that the use of reindeer for traction was an important
driver of reindeer domestication among the Sámi, and that transportation reindeer
were important for maintaining social and trade contacts over vast areas. Sámi set-
tlement patterns show a shift from locations connected by water to locations farther
away between ca. AD 700 and AD 800 (Hedman 2003; Seitsonen and Viljanmaa
2021), and transportation reindeer would have been important for the mobility of
land-connected societies (Halinen 2022).
The Transition toMobile Pastoralism (AD 1400–1600 Onward)
The 15th century seems to have been a turning point in the development of rein-
deer herding in northern Fennoscandia as mobile pastoralism emerged, although
with considerable regional variations (Fig.7). Historical sources increasingly shed
light on reindeer-herding practices, as historical sources from the 16th and 17th
centuries describe a mobile pastoralist reindeer-herding society in which reindeer
milking, draught reindeer, and pasture rotation were in use (Leem 1956 [1767];
Magnus 1996 [1555]; Rheen 1897 [1671]). Nevertheless, archaeological research
has revealed additional details about herding practices. The stable isotope data on
reindeer feeding patterns show that some reindeer received supplemental fodder and
others did not (Salmi etal. 2020a). However, the variation in dietary stable isotope
decreased between AD 1400 and AD 1600, which perhaps indicates more uniform
feeding patterns (Núñez etal. 2020). Skeletal indicators show that working reindeer
also were utilized at this time (Salmi etal. 2021). The religious role of the domes-
ticated reindeer also grew, as the first individuals carrying haplotypes common in
modern domesticated reindeer appear in the faunal assemblages from offering places
between AD 1400 and AD 1600. Archaeological evidence of reindeer-herding prac-
tices thus clearly shows that although there was a transition to mobile reindeer pas-
toralism, many cultural practices adopted earlier continued, possibly with adapta-
tions to changing economic and social conditions.
The combined effect of colonialism, economic factors, and taxation may have
been an important factor in the transition to mobile pastoralism. Economic needs
may have led to such an increase in wild reindeer hunting that the populations
crashed, creating a need for new ways of resource management in the form of
domestication (e.g., Odner 2001; Vorren 1974). Genetic bottlenecks in reindeer pop-
ulations dated to the 11th–14th centuries indicate overhunting, which may have trig-
gered the need to intensify resource management by managing domesticated herds
(Bergstøl 2020; Hansen and Olsen 2014: 204; Røed et al. 2018). A related line of
reasoning stresses that the transition to larger-scale reindeer herding in the 15th to
17th centuries created a surplus for the demands of trade networks and taxation by
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1 3
Journal of Archaeological Research
the states that increased their political and economic grip on the north at the same
time (Hedman 2003, pp. 223–230; Lundmark 1982; Wallerström 2000). Further-
more, the cooling of the climate during the Little Ice Age (ca. AD 1300–1850) and
the Black Death in Scandinavia in the mid-14th century may have caused societal
and economic crises, instigating changes in the subsistence strategies of the Sámi
(e.g., Carpelan 2003; Seitsonen 2020).
These environmental, societal, and economic changes may have created a need to
intensify the production of goods such as reindeer meat and hides for trade, taxation,
and livelihood. Herd structure and the emphasis of herding strategy are difficult to
evaluate based on current archaeological knowledge, especially because the mixed
hunting and herding livelihood complicates the interpretation of faunal assemblages
with regard to herding strategies. However, there is tentative evidence, such as a
slightly smaller proportion of working reindeer (Hull and Salmi n.d.) and a slightly
larger proportion of younger individuals slaughtered (Harlin etal. 2019), indicating
that the importance of meat production may have risen slightly even within com-
munities practicing a mixed livelihood of hunting and herding. However, the use
of reindeer for transportation was still immensely important, as draught and cargo
reindeer enabled large-scale seasonal migrations and long-distance trade journeys
(Salmi and Heino 2019). However, it is clear that the adoption of mobile pastoralism
happened at different times among different Sámi groups, and some did not adopt it
at all, retaining a hunter–herder livelihood until the 20th century (Carpelan 2003;
Hansen and Olsen 2014: 35; Harlin etal. 2019; Itkonen 1948). Moreover, the transi-
tion to large-scale mobile reindeer pastoralism occurred not only among the Sámi
but also among other Eurasian peoples such as the Nenets, Chukchi, Koryak, Enets,
and northern Khanty (Krupnik 1993; Stépanoff 2017). In the 19th century, herd
sizes had hugely increased across the Eurasian Arctic, leading to a highly special-
ized subsistence strategy described as the “the reindeer revolution” (Krupnik 1993;
Stépanoff 2017). At this point, the main activity of most households was reindeer
herding with large herds, which provided herders with most of their food and other
resources (Stépanoff 2017).
Pathways toReindeer Domestication
The chronology of reindeer domestication in Fennoscandia has puzzled scientists,
so the wider context of the process and its connections with other animal domestica-
tion processes merit scientific scrutiny. The interdependencies of reindeer-herding
traditions in Fennoscandia and Siberia have long been debated (e.g., Storli 1996).
Whereas evolutionary explanations of the origins of reindeer domestication stress
that reindeer herding developed separately in Fennoscandia and Siberia, diffusion-
ist explanations maintain that reindeer herding developed first in Siberia and spread
from there (e.g., Gordon 1990; Kortesalmi 2008, pp. 20–21; Mirov 1945; Storli
1996). Although the debate remains open, recent archaeological evidence has shed
some new light on the possible similarities, dissimilarities, and connections between
the development of reindeer herding in these areas.
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1 3
There likely are several origins of reindeer herding in Siberia. Early 20th century
literature cites Chinese historical sources and rock art depicting possibly harnessed
and ridden reindeer as evidence of reindeer domestication centers in the Sayan
Mountains or the Lake Baikal area, possibly around the turn of the first millen-
nium AD, and with influences from the pastoral peoples of the steppes farther south
(e.g., Laufer 1917; Mirov 1945). Recently, researchers have also argued for an early
onset of reindeer herding in the Yamal Peninsula (Anderson etal. 2019; Losey etal.
2021). Multiple sources of evidence such as geochemical analyses, objects inter-
preted as transportation reindeer headgear, and portable reindeer imagery indicate
that domesticated reindeer were held and trained there from the early centuries AD
(Anderson etal. 2019; Losey etal. 2021; Nomokonova etal. 2021). The reindeer
economy seems to have included small-scale reindeer herding as part of a mixed
economy of hunting, fishing, fowling, and gathering berries (Anderson etal. 2019).
Reindeer herding therefore seems to have begun in Siberia earlier than in Fennos-
candia, which may in turn indicate that the Sámi got the idea and expertise of rein-
deer herding from Siberian reindeer-herding communities.
Genetic lineages common in today’s domestic herds in Fennoscandia occurred in
Siberia as early as 3900 BC, and researchers have argued that these lineages spread
to Fennoscandia from Siberia (Røed etal. 2018, 2020). However, when the results
of analyses of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA are compared, the situation is more
complicated. The Fennoscandian domestic reindeer nuclear DNA lineages are clus-
tered with native Norwegian mountain reindeer lineage, while the mitochondrial
DNA lineages seem non-native to Fennoscandia (Røed etal. 2008; Weldenegod-
guad etal. 2020). This pattern may be a result of controlled breeding, in which wild
mountain reindeer males were deliberately or incidentally allowed to breed with
domestic reindeer females (Heino and Pelletier 2022). A similar practice has been
observed for the Skolt Sámi (Helle 1982) and the Evenki (Anderson etal. 2017b).
Furthermore, there remains a possibility that domestic reindeer belonging to differ-
ent lineages than those common today were extant before the spread of haplotypes II
and Ib, the spread of which is probably related to the emergence of mobile pastoral-
ism with large reindeer herds (Heino and Pelletier 2022).
The exact relationship between the Sámi and various Siberian reindeer-herding
traditions therefore remains unsolved, but it is clear there were cultural connec-
tions between the human groups populating these areas. For example, the mate-
rial culture and biological evidence from the Early Metal Age (ca. 1500–1100 BC)
burial site of Oleneostrovskiy in the Kola Peninsula indicates contacts to both the
west and the east (Murashkin etal. 2016). Furthermore, material culture and espe-
cially metal objects analyzed from Sámi habitation and offering sites dating to ca.
AD 1000–1300 indicate a vast contact network to both the west and the east (e.g.,
Halinen 2016; Serning 1956; Zachrisson 1984). It therefore seems plausible that
there were connections between the reindeer-herding traditions of the Sámi and
Siberian reindeer-herding peoples, possibly entailing the transfer of technological
expertise and domestic reindeer stock. This also seems reasonable given the similar-
ity of the early reindeer-herding adaptations in Siberia and Fennoscandia, both prob-
ably being a mix of small-scale herding inclusive of working reindeer use, hunting,
and gathering.
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Journal of Archaeological Research
The models of transitions in reindeer domestication in Fennoscandia resonate
with general models of animal domestication, especially with the prey and directed
pathways to domestication (Zeder 2012, 2015). The prey pathway to domestication
entails a process in which humans deliberately aim to increase the supply of a game
species (Zeder 2012, 2015). The need to increase the efficiency of resource manage-
ment has often resulted from overhunting (Larson and Fuller 2014). The theories of
the origin of reindeer domestication that stress economic factors leading to possible
overhunting, resource management intensification, and related societal changes are
concurrent with the prey pathway to domestication. The fitness of the prey pathway
model to reindeer domestication is also supported by the fact that wild reindeer was
an important game species for the Sámi before the onset of reindeer herding (e.g.,
Hansen and Olsen 2014, pp. 80–81; Kuusela etal. 2020). Moreover, the religious
role of wild reindeer offerings before the intensification of reindeer herding testi-
fies to the importance of wild reindeer to the Sámi economy and worldview (Heino
etal. 2021). The dwelling patterns of the Sámi at the time of reindeer domestication
may have been adapted to wild reindeer hunting, as well as reindeer herding (e.g.,
Halinen etal. 2013; Hedman etal. 2015).
The prey pathway model of domestication emphasizes the importance of reindeer
meat and hides, as opposed to traction, as a driving force behind the adoption of
reindeer herding. On the other hand, if the hypothesis of the importance of draught
reindeer in early reindeer domestication (Bjørklund 2013; Ingold 1986) holds true,
elements related to another pathway to domestication, the directed pathway (Zeder
2012, 2015), would be relevant for reindeer domestication. The directed pathway
begins with a deliberate attempt to domesticate a species to fulfill specific needs, for
example, traction (Zeder 2012, 2015). The directed pathway requires prior familiar-
ity with other domesticated animal economies (Zeder 2012). The directed pathway
theory is supported by the earlier adoption of reindeer herding and draught reindeer
use in Siberia (Anderson etal. 2019; Losey etal. 2021; Nomokonova etal. 2021),
which would then have acted as a potential model for the Sámi to adopt reindeer
herding. The possible Siberian genetic origins of Fennoscandian domesticated rein-
deer (Røed etal. 2018) also supports the directed pathway model of reindeer herd-
ing among the Sámi. The osteological record at our disposal does not go far enough
in time to allow us to conclude whether draught reindeer were indeed an impor-
tant factor in the early reindeer domestication of the Sámi (Bjørklund 2013; Ingold
1986), but the evidence of the use of working reindeer in small-scale reindeer herd-
ing in Finland in the 14th century may point in that direction, because it is possible
that the early reindeer herders employed a similar set of mixed subsistence strategies
as the Sámi in northeastern Fennoscandia did from the 14th century onward (Salmi
etal. 2021).
The archaeological evidence at hand therefore shows that the domestication of
reindeer among the Sámi probably followed a path that was a combination of ele-
ments from the prey and directed pathways. It is clear that wild reindeer hunting pre-
dates reindeer herding, and it is likely that intensification of resource management
played a role in the transition to reindeer herding. On the other hand, the Sámi may
have had prior knowledge of reindeer herding acquired through contacts with rein-
deer-herding Siberian peoples, and this knowledge may have prompted the adoption
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Journal of Archaeological Research
1 3
of reindeer herding, possibly the introduction of genetic lineages common in today’s
herds, as well as the use of draught reindeer.
Negotiating theDomestication Relationship
As reindeer were domesticated, they acquired new roles in human economies and
societies. A common thread in the animal domestication literature posits that ani-
mal domestication presents a profound change in one way or another in the relation-
ship between humans and animals (e.g., Ingold 2000; Knight 2012; Oma 2010). The
change may entail domesticated animals becoming private property controlled by
humans (e.g., Ingold 2000). Although the relationships with both wild and domesti-
cated animals can be close and intimate, closeness and intimacy may take different
forms when animals are domesticated (e.g., Knight 2012; Oma 2010). In addition to
changes, the continuations in the relationships between people and animals through
the transition to domestication merit attention.
One of the potential continuous processes relevant to reindeer domestication is
the management of game animal stock and its possible transformation into a domes-
tication relationship. As outlined earlier, reindeer hunting had been incorporated
into the prehistoric economies of people in northern Fennoscandia since the area
was populated after the last Ice Age. The use of various hunting strategies and struc-
tures such as pitfall systems, fences, and decoy animals (e.g., Halinen 2005, pp.
82–94; Helskog 2011b, 2012; Hennius 2020; Jordhøy 2008) shows a detailed and
intimate knowledge of reindeer ecology and behavior and the management of their
movements and actions using this knowledge. Researchers have even argued that the
management of the fence structures has been one of the driving forces behind the
societal changes leading to reindeer herding (Hansen and Olsen 2014, pp. 203–214).
Such practices can be seen as a continuum from wild animal management and hunt-
ing to the corralling, fencing, and guiding of the movements of domesticated rein-
deer in a reindeer-herding economy. Another example of a continuous practice is the
use of transportation technology. Sleds and sled parts have been discovered in north-
ern Fennoscandia dating from the Mesolithic onward, and the sleds may have been
pulled by dogs, people, or reindeer (e.g., Kuokkanen 2000). Although an ambiguous
source of information for the study of reindeer domestication, it shows a continuum
in the use of transportation technology that may have been and probably was used
with several species. The continuation between hunting and herding is also empha-
sized by the fact that wild reindeer hunting was long incorporated into the subsist-
ence economy of the Sámi groups also practicing reindeer herding (e.g., Salmi etal.
2021). Wild reindeer also retained their religious importance throughout the various
transitions in reindeer herding (Salmi etal. 2018).
It is not possible to pinpoint a definite point when hunting changed into herd-
ing, because the transition was a long process in which cultural practices and tech-
nologies were adapted to new forms of human–reindeer interaction. However, we
can try to outline some of the defining characteristics of the relationship between
domesticated reindeer and herders. An outline of these characteristics is also poten-
tially helpful for understanding how human–animal relationships may have evolved
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Journal of Archaeological Research
in the domestication processes of other animal species. First, care and trust build-
ing have been crucially important in the relationships between reindeer and herders.
An archaeologically documented example of care for the well-being of the reindeer
is supplemental feeding. In today’s reindeer herding, and probably also in the past,
feeding has enabled herders to monitor and affect the well-being of the reindeer,
build trust between people and reindeer, and help in taming and training draught
reindeer (Soppela etal. 2020; Salmi etal. 2022). Reindeer also learn to anticipate
feeding and other forms of care from the herders (Salmi etal. 2022; Turunen and
Vuojala-Magga 2014).
Moreover, the relationships between herders and reindeer are and probably
always have been constructed though interspecies practice and learning. For exam-
ple, the training of working reindeer is based on the mutual learning and trust that
come with regular contact and attuning to each other’s feelings and reactions. Thus,
reindeer personhood plays an important role in this mutual learning and cooperation
(Soppela etal. 2020; Vuojala-Magga 2010). The pastoral Sámi understood animals
as persons, capable of communication, emotions, intentional action, and meaning-
ful relationships with people, although animal personhood was considered different
from human personhood, arising in certain situations and variable between individ-
uals (Helander-Renvall 2010). Domesticated reindeer were creatures with person-
hood and agency, played out in various ways in reindeer herders’ practical tasks,
social interactions, and religious rituals. In the Sámi worldview, it was understood
that reindeer shared a common environment, as well as moments of communication
and reciprocity with humans (Helander-Renvall 2010). The Sámi, the reindeer, and
other living creatures therefore constituted a multispecies society in which humans
and non-humans both took part in social interactions and engagement (Boyd 2017;
Kirksey and Helmreich 2010; Pilaar Birch 2018; Salmi and Heino 2019).
In a broader sense, the relationship between reindeer and herders also was con-
structed through the herding tasks performed in the landscape with the animals. The
landscape-level characteristic of animal domestication has been emphasized by Sté-
panoff (2017), who argues that reindeer domestication is a process in which both
humans and animals modify their behavior to learn to live together in a shared land-
scape. It is emphasized that this learning and adaptation affects all parties: reindeer
have motivation and agency to enter the human association; humans balance the
needs of the reindeer with their own needs; and the landscape undergoes changes
associated with the new forms of human–reindeer interaction (Beach and Stammler
2006; Istomin and Dwyer 2010; Stépanoff 2017). The landscapes of reindeer herd-
ing consisted of the daily tasks and mobilities that were designed to meet the vari-
ous needs of reindeer and herders. They also were shaped by spiritual concerns for
the well-being of humans and reindeer that were negotiated with the supernatural
powers at various sacred sites in the landscape. Moreover, reindeer can be seen as
essential creatures in the construction of the herders’ lived-in worlds. As the world
constantly comes into being and is transformed when different beings act in it in
relation to other beings (Ingold 2011, pp. 67–75), and humans and animals become
who they are in relation to each other (Haraway 2008, pp. 15–27), reindeer herding
among the Sámi was and remains a constant process of inhabiting the world with the
reindeer. Domesticated reindeer were active participants in the constant creation of
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Journal of Archaeological Research
1 3
the herders’ lived-in worlds. This co-creation occurred in shared spaces and meeting
places, and it constituted the daily tasks of reindeer herding.
Some of the features of reindeer domestication in northern Fennoscandia may be
unique to the reindeer species, regional environmental conditions, and Sámi culture.
For example, the interplay of climate and reindeer migratory behavior contributed to
the development of Sámi mobile pastoralism based on following the seasonal move-
ments of reindeer herds between habitats. However, some of the insights learned
from reindeer domestication in northern Fennoscandia can inform us about the more
general characteristics of animal domestication potentially present in the domestica-
tion processes of other species. First, care for the well-being of animals is an impor-
tant characteristic of the domestication relationship and animal management and
is probably present more widely in domestication processes. Second, interpersonal
relationships and cooperation with some or all domesticated animals are likely to
form in the daily practices shared by people and animals. These aspects of animal
domestication are manifested not only at an interpersonal level but more broadly
in the landscape, society, and religion. Animal domestication can therefore be seen
as a social relationship characterized by communication, cooperation, and care,
maintained and constructed through interspecies encounters in everyday activities
and spiritual entanglements. This relationship is constantly renegotiated in every-
day interaction with the animals and is therefore ever-changing and never complete.
In these daily encounters, the domestication relationship and the shared world of
humans and animals are built. Their archaeological research therefore holds the key
to understanding the transformations of the lives of humans and animals participat-
ing in the domestication process. The various interactions visible in the archaeologi-
cal record have the potential to enhance our understanding of the social components
of animal domestication, adding nuances to the chronologies and narratives of ani-
mal domestication.
The domestication of the reindeer and the development of various reindeer-herding
traditions in northern Eurasia have been the focus of archaeological, historical, and
ethnographic scrutiny for more than 100 years. In this review, I have concentrated
on these processes among the Indigenous Sámi of northern Fennoscandia, especially
referencing new archaeological results that have become available in recent years
through methodological advances and theoretical insights. As my focus has been on
the development of various reindeer-herding practices and their social and religious
dimensions, I have especially discussed the archaeological evidence of reindeer
feeding, draught reindeer use, reindeer-herding landscapes and architectures, and the
role of reindeer in religious ritual. These insights were incorporated into the general
chronology of reindeer domestication and the understanding of the adoption of rein-
deer herding among the Sámi and in a wider northern Eurasian context. They also
were utilized to explore the implications of reindeer domestication on human–rein-
deer sociality and to discuss how animal domestication studies can benefit from
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1 3
Journal of Archaeological Research
understanding how the domestication relationship is constructed in daily encounters
and interactions with the animals.
Several important issues remain for future studies of reindeer domestication.
First, the recent development in archaeological methodologies and combination of
different methodologies, including analyses of stable isotopes, ancient DNA, physi-
cal activity markers, and landscape archaeology have opened new possibilities to
trace human–reindeer interactions in the domestication process. In particular, osteo-
logical methods such as paleopathology, geometric morphometrics, and the study of
bone cross-sectional properties and muscle attachment site morphology offer prom-
ising avenues for elucidating various physical activity patterns such as draught and
cargo use, corralling, and feeding behavior relevant for animal domestication studies.
Some of these methods have yet to be applied to archaeological data, and none has
been applied in a large-scale study. Method development targeting a more nuanced
understanding of physical activity patterns based on more comprehensive data sets
with animals with various activity patterns also will be needed. In the future, these
methodologies should be combined with other analytical possibilities with the
potential to reveal past human–animal interactions, such as various soil analyses.
In addition, future research should address the problems and potential in combining
various data sets for animal domestication studies. For example, landscape archaeo-
logical analyses, faunal analyses, and the analysis of ancient DNA operate at very
different levels and timescales. While the analysis of ancient DNA reflects popula-
tion-level changes over a long period, the study of phenotypically plastic morpho-
logical changes through geometric morphometrics and physical activity markers
can more efficiently target incipient domestication in a more restricted timescale.
Moreover, approaches such as landscape archaeology and the archaeology of reli-
gion can reveal culturally significant aspects of the human–domesticate relationship.
Current reindeer domestication studies often approach the problem using a single
perspective or methodology. Comprehensive multi-proxy analyses will therefore be
important for the future study of both reindeer domestication and animal domestica-
tion in general.
The second important topic to address is regional variations in the development
of reindeer herding. The archaeological and historical evidence shows there were
regional variations in reindeer-herding traditions among the Sámi. In the 17th cen-
tury and later literary sources, the different subsistence patterns of the forest and
mountain Sámi are mentioned. Earlier variation in reindeer-herding traditions is
more difficult to pinpoint due to the patchiness of the archaeological data. Some of
the transitions such as the changing mobility patterns related to the development of
a hunting–herding adaptation and mobile pastoralism and the shifts in the foci of
religious ritual seem to have happened simultaneously in relatively large areas in
northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway (Salmi etal. 2018; Seitsonen and Viljanmaa
2021). Reindeer feeding seems to have been a regionally and temporally variable
practice (Salmi etal. 2020a). Because many of the other reindeer-herding practices
such as the draught use and corralling of reindeer are presently only documented
from one or a handful of sites (Jerand and Linderholm 2019; Salmi etal. 2021), the
representativeness of the archaeological data allows no specific conclusions about
how widespread they were. As the current data sets are patchy in their regional and
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Journal of Archaeological Research
1 3
temporal representativeness, it will be important to build larger and more repre-
sentative data sets in the future to elucidate the local histories and variations in the
adoption and development of reindeer herding among the Sámi. Such studies also
will need to consider the integration of reindeer herding into other forms of land
use such as hunting, fishing, cultivation, and gathering. Future research will need
to address the interdependencies, similarities, and differences in the development of
reindeer herding in Fennoscandia and Siberia, with more comprehensive and repre-
sentative data sets from both areas.
The third potential avenue for future research is the examination of animal
domestication through the concept of everyday social interaction. The examination
of human–reindeer interactions and sociality in the context of reindeer-herding tasks
has shown that interspecies communication, cooperation, and care were important
components of reindeer herding. The social bonds between people and reindeer
were maintained and constructed through various interspecies and interpersonal
encounters in everyday and ritual activities performed in the landscape. By empha-
sizing these aspects of the domestication relationship, I have argued that reindeer
domestication was and remains an ongoing process of everyday interaction between
people and animals through which social bonds are constructed and constantly rene-
gotiated. Although Zeder (2015) has suggested that the social components of the
human–domesticate relationships are characteristics of animal management prac-
tices rather than domestication itself, I argue that these aspects cannot be separated
from the physiological, genetic, and ecological components of animal domestica-
tion but should be examined as an integral part of the way in which the animals
gradually entered into human association and remained there. When animals entered
the domestication relationship, their roles as participants of the multispecies society
changed, as well as how they participated in the construction of the lived-in worlds
of the humans domesticating them. The meeting points, spaces, and everyday cul-
tural practices through which these lived-in worlds were constructed can be ana-
lyzed through the archaeological record. Some potentially promising avenues for
future research, currently poorly covered in the archaeological literature on reindeer
domestication, would be subtle landscape modifications and manipulations to attract
reindeer and cater to their needs, such as the controlled burning of vegetation to cre-
ate feeding opportunities or the use of smoke to repel insects.
Fourth, an important aspect to consider in future reindeer domestication studies is
the involvement of local communities and the integration of reindeer herders’ tradi-
tional knowledge about the research process. Such approaches have proven to offer
extremely valuable insights into domestication histories among other reindeer herd-
ers (e.g., Anderson etal. 2019; Losey etal. 2021), but they are still less widespread
than they could be in the Sámi archaeology practiced in Finland, Sweden, and Nor-
way (Harlin 2019; Spangen etal. 2020). The traditional knowledge of today’s rein-
deer herders cannot be projected on the past as such because cultural practices are
ever-changing (e.g., Politis 2014; Stump 2013), although elements of traditional
knowledge can persist with a high degree of coherence over a long period (Smith
2012). The traditional knowledge of reindeer herders can therefore inform us about
how human–reindeer relationships were built and maintained in herding practices.
As shown by some of the examples discussed in this paper, especially regarding
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1 3
Journal of Archaeological Research
feeding and draught reindeer use, the integration of reindeer herders’ traditional
knowledge has the potential to add important nuances to the understanding of rein-
deer domestication in Fennoscandia. Although the specific rationales and techniques
of reindeer supplemental feeding or draught reindeer training may have changed, the
elements of care, interspecies communication, and trust building were probably part
of past reindeer herding in a similar way to today.
The understanding of elements of change and continuity in reindeer-herding prac-
tices is especially pertinent today, as the social, political, climatic, and economic
environment of reindeer herding is changing quickly. Climate change and competing
forms of land use have necessitated a growing dependence on supplemental feeding,
instigating changes in the economic and social conditions of reindeer herding (Heik-
kinen et al. 2012; Horstkotte et al. 2020). Herd structure has undergone marked
changes with the emphasis of reindeer herding changing from a multipurpose herd to
one intended primarily for meat production (Holand 2007). There are therefore eco-
nomic and environmental pressures to increase herd sizes and increase supplemental
feeding, but herders do not necessarily see these as viable options for their long-term
livelihood (Heikkinen etal. 2012; Horstkotte etal. 2020). However, traditions once
close to disappearance, such as draught reindeer training, have been revived in con-
nection with the tourism boom that has created a need for reindeer safaris (Soppela
etal. 2020). In the future, the combination of meat trade and processing, crafts, and
tourism is expected to support the economic and cultural sustainability of reindeer-
herding communities (Rantamäki-Lahtinen 2008). An understanding of changes in
these traditions provided by archaeological research is important for today’s reindeer
herders for situating the past, present, and future of their livelihood in the context of
the long-term history of reindeer herding.
Acknowledgments This project received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the
European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement No. 756431) and the
Academy of Finland (project numbers 275635 and 308322). I wish to thank all the researchers working
in the Domestication in Action project whose work has contributed to the results presented and cited in
this article.
Funding Open Access funding provided by University of Oulu including Oulu University Hospital.
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License,
which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as
you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Com-
mons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article
are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the
material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is
not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission
directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ licen
ses/ by/4. 0/.
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Unlabelled: Reindeer are the only domestic cervid and have formed the cosmologies and practical daily lives of numerous peoples in the Northern Hemisphere for thousands of years. The questions of when, how, and where reindeer domestication originated and how it developed remain one of the scientific enigmas of our time. The practice of reindeer castration is an essential feature of all communities practicing reindeer herding today. It has probably been one of the most important interventions in the reindeer's life cycle and biology that marked the start of domesticating human-reindeer relationships long ago. Castration is and has been essential for reindeer taming, control, training, herd management, and ritual practices. Unsuitably, to this present day, there are no methods zooarchaeologists can employ to distinguish a reindeer gelding from a reindeer bull in the archaeological record. In this current paper, we outline a new method that presents the possibility of differentiating between full males, castrated males, and females based on osteometric features. We measured the leg bones and pelvis of the complete or partial skeletons of 97 adult modern domestic reindeer individuals to determine the precise effects castration has on skeletal size and morphology. We explored our osteometric dataset with different statistical methods. We found a clear separation of the two male groups in the radioulna, humerus, and femur but in the tibia and metapodials to a lesser extent. Osteometric depth and width were generally more affected than the longitudinal axis. Females were easily distinguishable from castrates and full males based on nearly every bone measurement. Our analysis shows that reindeer castration can be proven through osteometric analysis. Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s12520-022-01696-y.
Full-text available
In this paper we present ongoing geoarchaeological research of Sámi reindeer pastoralist campsites. The discussion is based on three case study sites situated at the Lake Gilbbesjávri region (Finland) in northern Sápmi. All the sites are historical-period reindeer herder camps, likely used as temporary summer encampments by the nomadic herders in the 17th–19th centuries. The sites were prospected with systematic soil sampling and geoarchaeological analyses, which have been previously successfully applied in the study of Sámi habitation sites on both intrasite and intra-dwelling levels. The changes in the soil phosphate, pH and electric conductivity values were analysed and interpreted based on ethnographic analogies. These allow insight into the outwardly invisible taskscapes and spatialities of the herders and their animals at the campsites. The different geoarchaeological factors highlight differing aspects of the use of space at the historical Sámi reindeer pastoralist campsites, such as potential reindeer corralling areas, and provide comparative material for the analyses of prehistoric Sámi hunter-gatherer-herder sites.
Full-text available
Domestication is often portrayed as a long-past event, at times even in archaeological literature. The term domestication is also now applied to other processes, including human evolution. In such contexts, domestication means selection for friendliness or prosociality and the bodily results of such selective choices. Both such perspectives are misleading. Using dogs and modern humans as entry points, this paper explores why conceiving of domestication as a threshold event consisting of selection for prosociality is both incomplete and inaccurate. Domestication is an ongoing process, not a moment or an achievement. Selection in breeding, including for prosociality, is a part of many do-mestication histories, but it alone does not sustain this process over multiple generations. Further, much selection in domestication has little to do with human intention. Care, taming, commensalism, material things, and places are critical in carrying domestic relationships forward.
Full-text available
Process philosophy offers a metaphysical foundation for domestication studies. This grounding is especially important given the European colonialist origin of ‘domestication’ as a term and 19th century cultural project. We explore the potential of process archaeology for deep-time investigation of domestication relationships, drawing attention to the variable pace of domestication as an ongoing process within and across taxa; the nature of domestication ‘syndromes’ and ‘pathways’ as general hypotheses about process; the importance of cooperation as well as competition among humans and other organisms; the significance of non-human agency; and the ubiquity of hybrid communities that resist the simple wild/domestic dichotomy.
Full-text available
Habitual loading patterns of domesticated animals may differ due to human influence from their wild counterparts. In the early stages of human-reindeer interaction, cargo and draft use was likely important, as well as corralling tame reindeer. This may result to changes in loading as increased (working) or decreased (captive) loading, as well as foraging patterns (digging for lichen from under the snow versus fed working and/or captive reindeer). Our aim is to study whether differences in activity modify variation in bone cross-sectional properties and external dimensions. Our material consists of donated skeletons of modern reindeer: 20 working reindeer (19 racing and one draft), 24 zoo reindeer, and sample of 78 free-ranging/wild reindeer as a reference group. We used general linear modelling to first establish the total variation in cross-sectional properties among wild and free-ranging reindeer, and then to infer how differences in loading modify observed variation among zoo and working reindeer. According to our results, direction of greater bone quantity as well as external dimensions in of radioulna of female reindeer differs from female reference group, likely relating to foraging behavior. External dimensions of humerus differ in working and zoo male reindeer compared to male reference group. Increased robusticity of long bones, especially of tibia among working male reindeer, may indicate increased loading, and increased cortical area of long bones may indicate sedentary lifestyle among female reindeer. The results of this study can be used to understand early stages of reindeer domestication by observing reindeer activity patterns from archaeological material.
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The emergence of pastoralism and animal husbandry has been a critical point in the history of human evolution. Beyond profound behavioural changes in domesticated animals compared to wild ones, characterising the morphological changes associated with domestication process remains challenging. Because reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) can be considered to still be in the early phases of the domestication process, the study of modern populations provides a unique opportunity to examine the impact of captivity and selective breeding on skeletal changes. In this work, we investigated the morphological changes in long limb bone cross-sections using 137 wild and domestic reindeer individuals bred in free-range, in captivity or used for racing and pulling. The shape and shaft cortical thickness of the six long limb bones (i.e., humerus, radioulna, metacarpal, femur, tibia and metatarsal) were measured using a 2D-geometric morphometrics approach taking into account subspecies, sex, body mass and lifestyle differences. These bones are important to understanding functional morphological changes because they can provide information on feeding and locomotor behaviours, as well as on body propulsion and weight bearing. Apart from the effects of taxonomy, etho-ecology and sex, we have found that captivity and selection induced important variations in the size and body mass of modern reindeer. Our results also showed that patterns of variation in cortical bone thickness of long limb bone cross-sections were strongly impacted by body mass and human-imposed restrictions in roaming. This demonstrates that bone cross-sections can provide information on changes in locomotor, reproductive and feeding behaviours induced by the domestication process. These results are valuable not only for (paleo)biologists studying the impact of captivity and selection in ungulates but also for archaeologists exploring the origins of domestication and early herding strategies.
Full-text available
For centuries, reindeer herding has been an integral part of the subsistence and culture among the Sámi of northern Fennoscandia. Despite the importance of this husbandry in their history, the timing and details of early reindeer domestication are still highly debated. Indeed, identifying domesticated individuals in the archaeological record remains complicated because reindeer are still considered to be in the early phases of the domestication process. In this work, we propose solutions for identifying domestic individuals using 3D geometric morphometrics on isolated elements from the long bones of the hindlimb in modern reindeer populations. These bones are important for understanding both the mobility of reindeer and the effect of load carrying or draught. A good level of distinction between the size and shape variables of these bones was found among subspecies, sex and lifestyles. This demonstrates that the long bones of the hindlimb can provide information on changes in locomotor behaviour induced by the domestication process, such as control and reduction of reindeer mobility by humans. This also demonstrates that analysis in geometric morphometrics is useful for exploring the use of draught reindeer in early Sámi reindeer herding and the implications for understanding reindeer domestication and early reindeer herding strategies.
Reindeer winter feeding is increasingly important to reindeer herders due to the effects of larger reindeer herds, fragmentation of pastures due to other land use, and climate change on the quantity and quality of winter pastures. Feeding also plays an important role in taming individuals selected for draught reindeer training. In traditional reindeer pastoralism, reindeer received supplementary fodder such as tree branches, lichen, grasses, and sedges in difficult winters. This chapter presents the earliest evidence of reindeer feeding, c. 1200 CE, through stable isotope analysis and an examination of feeding behaviour evidenced by physical activity markers in the skeleton. The role of reindeer feeding in today’s reindeer-herding practice, both for taming individuals destined for draught and racing use and for nutritional reasons in the winter, is discussed based on reindeer herders’ traditional and practical knowledge. The implications for the interpretation of the archaeological data are also explored.
For centuries, reindeer herding has been an integral part of the subsistence and culture of the Sámi of northern Fennoscandia. Despite the importance of reindeer herding in the history of the Sámi, the timing and details of reindeer domestication are still highly debated. The wild reindeer reaching Fennoscandia at the end of the last glaciation had several specific eco-ethological and biological characteristics which were strongly disturbed and modified from the beginning of the domestication process. One of the ways to identify the early phases of the domestication process is to study direct evidence preserved over time through archaeological records. This can be done through genetic analyses or directly by examining the morphological characteristics of the fossil skeletal remains of reindeer. In this chapter, we specifically explore the impact of human selection on genetic and morphological changes in reindeer. We show that the domestication of the reindeer in Fennoscandia strongly modified its genotype and phenotype. This demonstrates that direct analyses of fossil reindeer skeletal remains have great potential for understanding reindeer domestication and early reindeer-herding strategies in Fennoscandia.KeywordsAdaptationAncient DNA (aDNA)DomesticationGeneticsMorphometric variability Rangifer tarandus
Recent developments in physical activity assessment of reindeer offer a possibility to identify reindeer activity in the archaeological record. These include species-specific muscle attachment site scoring, identification of activity-related pathologies, and bone biomechanical properties. In this paper, we employ entheseal site scoring to identify human influence in reindeer feeding patterns in archaeological assemblages from selected Sámi archaeological sites (offering site at Unna Saiva, market place at Markkina and town at Tornio) dating c. AD 1200–1800 in view of reindeer domestication. Entheseal changes was scored in muscles attachment sites of proximal radius, previously observed to reflect feeding (digging for lichen from under the snow in winter versus being fed). The observed entheseal scores were compared to the modern reindeer collection containing fed (zoo) and non-fed (free-ranging) reindeer. The comparison of observed entheses between groups suggested that the entheseal changes observed from the reindeer at the Sámi offering site at Unna Saiva indicated towards reduced intensity of digging for lichen, probably because they received additional winter fodder. This is supported by stable isotope data suggesting human influence in their diets. Entheseal scores from the other sites did not indicate winter feeding. However, the smaller average size of reindeer from these sites may bias the results. These results suggest that supplementary winter feeding was practiced by (some) early Sámi reindeer herders. Our results further emphasize the relevance of entheseal variation of archaeological reindeer bone to infer feeding behaviour and domestication status of reindeer, especially when used in conjunction with other data.