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Landscape and culture in Northern Eurasia / Peter Jordan, editor.
p. cm.—(Publications of the Institute of Archaeology)
ISBN 978-1-59874-244-2 (hardcover : alk. paper)
1. Ethnology—Russia (Federation)—Siberia. 2. Hunting and
gathering societies—Russia (Federation)—Siberia. 3. Landscape
assessment—Russia (Federation)—Siberia. 4. Material culture—Russia
(Federation)—Siberia. 5. Siberia (Russia)—Social life and customs.
I. Jordan, Peter David, 1969
Printed in the United States of America
paper used in this publication meets the minimum
requirements of American National Standard for Information
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List of Illustrations
Notes on Russian Transliteration
1. Landscape and Culture in Northern Eurasia:
Landscape, Communication and Obligation
2. Seeing with Others’ Eyes: Hunting and ‘Idle Talk’ in the
Landscape of the Siberian Iukagir
3. Shamanistic Revival in a Post-Socialist Landscape:
Luck and Ritual among Zabaikal’e Orochen-Evenkis
David G. Anderson
4. Landscapes in Motion: Opening Pathways in Kamchatkan
Hunting and Herding Rituals
5. Material and Linguistic Perspectives on Sel’kup Sacred Places
Alexandra A. Maloney
Landscape, Dwelling and Practice
6. Dwelling in the Landscape Among the Reindeer Herding
Chukchis of Chukotka
7. ‘Marking’ the Land: Sacrifices, Cemeteries and Sacred
Places among the Iamal Nenetses
Sven Haakanson Jr. and Peter Jordan
Landscape Perception and Sacred Places amongst
the Vasiugan Khants
Perceptions of Landscape among the Lake Essei Iakut:
Narrative, Memory and Knowledge
The Creation and Persistence of Cultural Landscapes
among the Siberian Evenkis: Two Conceptions
of ‘Sacred’ Space
Landscapes in Long-term Transformation
The Mansi Sacred Landscape in Long-Term Historical
Sacred Places and Masters of Hunting Luck in the Forest
Worlds of the Udege People of the Russian Far East
Komi Reindeer Herders: Syncretic and Pragmatic
Notions of Being in the Tundra
Joachim Otto Habeck
Siberian Landscapes in Ket Traditional Culture
Edward J. Vajda
Sacred Sites, Settlements and Place-Names: Ancient
Saami Landscapes in Northern Coastal Sweden
Noel D. Broadbent and Britta Wennstedt Edvinger
About the Editor and Contributors
Contact Details for Authors
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Location map of chapter case studies.
Map of Iukagir territory.
Iukagir ice fishing.
Hunters travelling within their hunting ground
with dog sleds.
Figure 2.4 Sable, the ‘Soft Gold’, the main fur prey of
Figure 2.5 The elk moving along the river bank in spring 1999.
Figure 2.6 The Omulevka River, the hunting territory of the
Figure 2.7 Interior of hunting cabin showing men relaxing
after the hunt.
Figure 3.1 Map of Vitim River valley.
Figure 3.2 Gregorii Chernykh draining blood from the
stunned, tethered reindeer.
Figure 3.3 Skinning the reindeer starting from the feet.
Figure 3.4 Nikolai Aruneev displays the meat on willow maps
and burns portions of each piece in an offering fire.
Figure 3.5 Nikolai Aruneev constructs the offering site on a
small rise between the Poperechnaia River and
Figure 3.6 Completed reindeer offering scaffold.
Figure 3.7 The author and Nikolai Aruneev making reindeer
Figure 3.8 Schematic map of the Poperechnaia River valley.
Figure 3.9 Schematic map of the Poperechnaia River valley
emphasising the yearly round and the speciallymaintained kever meadows.
Figure 3.10 lokovun mortuary structure for depositing
the clothing and personal goods of a deceased
Figure 3.11 Aruneev’s kunakan inuvun [child’s toy] at the
mountain pass between the Poperechnaia and
Location map of Lesnaia and Achaivaiam
in Northern Kamchatka.
Figure 4.2 The crafting of a wooden seal during the 2006
Ololo ritual in Lesnaia.
Figure 4.3 Detail of the ‘tree of luck’ and of the Y-shaped
wooden ‘pathway’ with the wooden bears and
sheep attached to it.
Figure 4.4 Moving like a bear and diving like a seal during
Figure 4.5 View from above of the sacrificial altar built in
Achaivaiam in funeral context.
Figure 4.6 Imitating the ravens on the funerary pyre.
Figure 4.7 Detail of a sacrificial ‘sausage’ after its
Figure 5.1 Map of indigenous minorities of Russia.
Figure 5.2 Sel’kup wooden shamanistic images.
Figure 6.1 Location map.
Figure 6.2 Changing settlement.
Figure 6.3 Passing the burning kênut in front of the herdsmen
coming back from the summer pastures.
Figure 6.4 Building the iaranga.
Figure 6.5 Sketch 1: Organisation of the space inside
Figure 6.6 Blood drawings performed at the ŋênrir’’un ritual.
Figure 6.7 Drawings of charcoal on a newly-sewn inner tent
inside the iaranga.
Figure 6.8 Fumigations during the first day of the Ŋênrir’’un
Figure 6.9 Anthropomorphic fireboards in front of an iaranga
during the Ŋênrir’’un ritual.
Figure 6.10 Making the fire with fireboards during the Ulvev
Figure 6.11 Fireboards and treatment of the reindeer iitriir
during the Ŋênrir’’un ritual.
Figure 7.1 General location map and Brigade 17’s migration
Figure 7.2 Members of Brigade 17.
Figure 7.3 Brigade 17’s reindeer herd.
Figure 7.4 Brigade 17 crossing the frozen River Ob’.
Figure 7.5 The symbolic siyangi line runs from the stove
located at the centre of the chum out through
the back of the tent.
The sacred place at which Brigade 17 conducted
a reindeer sacrifice.
Consuming fresh blood from the sacrificed reindeer.
Tying gifts to the sacred tree as a closing gesture.
Location map of the upper reaches of the Vasiugan
River, Tomsk Region, Western Siberia.
Upper Vasiugan fish weir located near the settlement
Bear festival mask (birch bark).
A member of the Milimov clan.
Location of Lake Essei, Krasnoiarskii Krai, Siberia.
Sasha Alekseev, local hunter, taking a short break.
Remains of golomo, traditional dwelling
of Lake Essei residents.
Platform for animal remains.
‘Sky’ burial platform for bears.
General location map of Mansi communities
in Western Siberia.
Pelym Mansi family pupyg sum’ iakh.
Lozva Mansi ialpyng ma.
Lozva Mansi purlakhtyn ma.
Pelym Mansi family pupyg (an arsyn) kept
in a suit on the pupyg.
The Russian Far East.
An Udege hunter going to set a bow-trap.
A traditional trap for sable hunting (Dui).
Hunting territories and old settlement pattern
on the Bikin River basins.
Remains of the ritual to the master of hunting luck.
Siwantai Mio and the shrine.
A hunter dedicating the ritual to the shrine.
Map showing locations of places and geographic
features mentioned in the text.
The reindeer herders’ brigade travelling from
one campsite to another.
Interior layout of the tent (chom) of a reindeerherding brigade.
Figure 13.4 A young woman (‘tent mate’) plucking
a willow grouse.
Figure 14.1 Map of Siberian peoples.
Figure 14.2 Ket reindeer shaman’s headdress.
Figure 14.3 Elogui River, western tributary of the Enisei.
Figure 15.1 Sápmi today (dark cross-hatching).
Figure 15.2 Imaginative drawing of a bear burial with grave
Figure 15.3 Densities of place-names with the prefix Lapp
in Upper Norrland.
Figure 15.4 Map of the central area of the Grundskatan site.
Figure 15.5 A labyrinth on a sealer’s hut at Grundskatan.
Table 3.1 A sketch of the Beiun Yearly Round.
Table 12.1 Population of Krasnyi iar village in 2001.
Table 15.1 Overview of place-names beginning with
the prefix Lapp in Northern Coastal Sweden.
This volume aims to demonstrate how cultural landscape research can
provide the intellectual foundations for a new and truly circumpolar
phase in the study of northern hunters and reindeer herders, their lifeways and spirituality.
My own interests in both Siberia and landscape research stem back
to the mid-1990s, when I was developing interests in a Ph.D. on the
archaeology of northern hunter-gatherers. I was interested in finding
ways to move beyond the ecological and adaptive perspectives that dominated this field, but also wanted to avoid strict adherence to a rival set
of perspectives, which appeared to emphasise only phenomenological
encounters with meaningful places, and made little reference to the more
obvious challenges of making a living in extreme northern environments.
Landscape research, combined with the study of material culture,
appeared to signal more productive frameworks for the development
of more integrated accounts of northern hunter-gatherers, their adaptations, spirituality and long-term histories. With new opportunities
opening in Siberia, my Ph.D. interests also shifted towards ethnographic
and ethnoarchaeological investigations of contemporary hunter-gatherer
life-ways in Western Siberia.
By the end of the Ph.D. I was becoming increasingly interested
in the role of reindeer herding in boreal hunting economies, and the
impacts that domestic herds had on subsistence, mobility and sacred
landscape geography. Increasing knowledge of Siberian ethnography
also stoked a more general desire to investigate the tremendous richness
and variability of indigenous cultural landscapes in Northern Eurasia,
the basic details of which remain very poorly known in the Western
The idea of a producing a comprehensive volume on northern landscapes crystallised sometime in 2003, and I can remember sketching out
a set of likely chapters whilst sitting in the gloomily-lit Sheremet’evo 2
airport in Moscow: I had several hours to wait before a connecting night
Landscape and Culture in Northern Eurasia
flight to Siberia, and the oppressively low ceilings somehow served as a
perfect foil for imaging the taiga worlds that lay beyond. A provisional
publishing contract was offered by UCL Press, and by the summer of
2004 I set about commissioning chapters through a growing network of
Chapter authors were invited to examine how northern indigenous
communities inhabited, perceived and constructed cultural landscapes,
and how these interactions and practices were marked by built structures
and material remains. Over many months the present collection of chapters gradually emerged; case studies from Fennoscandia and Northern
Russia were also added to complete a fully-Eurasian transect, but a small
number of other chapters didn’t materialise, including a planned comparative study of the Ainu.
Almost all chapters went through several revisions, to ensure that
a focus on landscape was central, but also to develop the intellectual
potential of the individual perspectives and the unique and fresh ethnographic materials that were being presented. On balance, the present
collection largely succeeds in capturing some of commonalities and differences that characterise landscape engagements in different parts of
Sketching out a preliminary book structure in the waiting lounge of
Sheremet’evo 2, my original plan had been to organise the case studies
along a simplistic comparative transect, starting with the Saami in the
West, and running through to the Chuckhi and Ainu in the East. By
the time each of the chapters had been revised and edited this structure seemed overly-regimented, more akin to a kind of dry and descriptive Handbook of Siberian Peoples than a more intellectually-enquiring
investigation of human-landscape relations. These frustrations led to a
thematic reorientation of the volume, with the aim of highlighting the
salient perspectives and approaches to northern landscapes that individual chapters seemed to be capturing.
Bringing these rich and diverse case studies to press within the covers
of a truly integrated volume has been a rewarding experience, but also
a long and complex logistical challenge. Extended fieldwork absences
by some authors injected delays, as did correcting and substantial redrafting of the work of some authors whose first language was not English. In 2007 my own move to Aberdeen University to assist in setting up
a new Department of Archaeology further slowed progress.
Publishing an edited volume is also a truly collective intellectual
effort, and I would like to express my enormous thanks to all the authors
for their hard work in producing such a rich set of papers, and also for
their patience as the editorial and peer-review procedures ground slowly
During the commissioning phase, David Anderson, Tim Ingold,
Neil Price and Peter Ucko provided general encouragement and some
useful suggestions for potential chapter authors. David Anderson and
Sean O’Neill provided useful comments on earlier drafts of the introduction, and I’m also very grateful to the two anonymous academic
reviewers, who provided some extremely insightful comments and general recommendations that enabled the book’s core focus to be clarified
and sharpened. Thanks also to Marion Cutting and Ruth Whitehouse
who oversaw the review process at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology; in
Aberdeen University Rona Kennedy provided crucial help at some key
moments and Alison Sandison produced improved versions of many of
the maps and figures.
On a more personal level I would like to express my deep thanks
to Christine, Dave, Andrew, Sarah (as well as Pablo, Manolo, Clarisa,
Paloma, Ben and Lauren), for all their encouragement, ‘distractions’ and
NOTES ON RUSSIAN
For consistency all Russian words, names, geographic features and locations, ethnic group names and other terminology have been transliterated according to the Library of Congress System. In some cases this
results in alternative spellings of some more familiar locations or groups,
for example, Yamal is spelt ‘Iamal’, Yukaghir as ‘Iukagir’ and so on.
LANDSCAPE AND CULTURE IN NORTHERN
EURASIA: AN INTRODUCTION
This volume examines the life-ways and beliefs of the indigenous peoples
of Northern Eurasia. Chapters contribute ethnographic, ethnohistoric
and archaeological case studies stretching from Fennoscandia, through
Siberia, and into Chukotka and the Russian Far East. One overarching
aim of the book is to break down the lingering linguistic boundaries that
continue to divide up the circumpolar world—there is immense Russianlanguage ethnographic literature on the groups covered by these chapters, though much of this work remains largely unknown to Western
A second aim of the volume is to move beyond ethnographic ‘thick
description’ to integrate the study of Northern Eurasian hunting and
herding societies more effectively into ongoing international debate. For
example, during different periods in the history of anthropology, certain
regions of the world have been associated with major theoretical developments: Africa with the development of kinship theory; Melanesia with
theories of sociality and personhood; and Europe with theories of ethnicity, nationalism and the state (Ingold 2003, 25). With the re-opening
of Siberia to international scholarship might it now be the turn of the
North to set a new theoretical agenda, with a renewed and truly circumpolar focus on human-animal relations, systems of spirituality and
human perceptions of the environment (Ingold 2002, 245)?
This volume takes this broader agenda forward by employing the
analytical concept of ‘landscape’ to examine how northern communities
Landscape and Culture in Northern Eurasia
engage practically and symbolically with their taiga and tundra environments. The flexibility of the landscape approach enables several underresearched aspects of circumpolar subsistence, knowledge and practice
to be examined in different ways: several chapters investigate the immediacy and complexity of human-animal-spirit relations; others situate their analysis of northern life-ways in a deeper historical context,
emphasising long-term transformation, but also the flexibility and resilience inherent in local perceptions and practices. Many chapters also
touch on the complex ways in which northern societies were brought
under increasing economic and political control, but often in ways that
left conceptual and physical spaces where local identities, rituals and
beliefs could endure, in some cases, right through to the present day.
The third—and broadly archaeological—aim of the volume is to
generate a range of ethnographic parallels which direct attention to the
relationship between social activity, material culture and landscape. In
exploring the spatial organisation of higher-latitude routine and ritual
practices and the social and symbolic roles played by objects and vernacular architecture, all the chapters raise important questions about
the extent to which the materiality of northern spirituality might survive
into the archaeological record. When read from an ‘ethnoarchaeological’ perspective (David and Kramer 2001), these case studies will serve
as useful sources of ethnographic analogy for archaeologists seeking to
move analysis and interpretation of earlier hunting and herding societies beyond the current focus on ecology and adaptation (Jordan 2006).
In particular, many chapters hint at new ways of understanding how
and why northern world-views might have been expressed through the
gifting and sacrifice rituals that are central to circumpolar subsistence
practices, thereby providing an integrated range of ethnographic analogies for the further development of an ‘archaeology of natural places’
In sum, this volume aims to demonstrate how cultural landscape research can provide foundations for a new phase in circumpolar studies,
encouraging increased international collaboration between archaeologists, ethnographers and historians, and opening out new directions
for archaeological investigation of spirituality and northern landscape
TRADITIONS OF LANDSCAPE RESEARCH
Landscape research has continued to expand and diversify, and now occupies a central position in the humanities, spanning archaeology, social
anthropology, geography, history and related disciplines, and embracing
Landscape and Culture in Northern Eurasia: An Introduction
the study of economics, politics, social relations and cultural perceptions
(Carmichael et al. 1994; David and Thomas 2008; Hirsch and O’Hanlon
1995; Ingold 2000; Tilley 1994, 2006; Ucko and Layton 1999; Zvelebil
Recent years have witnessed several salient topics emerge into the
forefront of landscape research, including the social and symbolic ‘construction’ of space through routine practice, and the idea that landscapes
reflect long-term historical process, with meanings, values and power
structures embedded within their materiality and traditions of use (e.g.,
Bender 1993, 2006; Tilley 2006, for recent overviews of the field). More
generally, the key strength of the landscape approach appears to lie in its
‘useful ambiguity’ (Gosden and Head 1994, 113) and in its capacity to
connect rather than divide divergent themes and theoretical perspectives
(Layton and Ucko 1999).
One might argue that the concept of landscape is most useful as a
medium of a reflection—an entry point into the exploration of wider
connections—rather than a precise research methodology (Tilley 2006).
At the same time, a central heuristic unites landscape research: people
make landscapes, and are in turn, made by them; landscapes, route-ways
and built places shape, and in turn are shaped by, the day-to-day and
longer-term unfolding of social practice; landscapes are most essentially
works in progress, under going cumulative change through time, rather
than emerging as a finished product (Bourdieu 1977; Giddens 1984, 35;
Ingold 1993, 2000; Tilley 1994).
This recursive relationship between people and landscape has been
explored from a number of different perspectives, and a useful distinction can be drawn between ‘micro-scale’ studies emphasising the direct human experience of landscape, where meanings are practised,
negotiated or ‘read’ through an embodied engagement with the world.
Alternative ‘macro-scale’ studies have focused on the structured nature
of landscape as a reflection of group or national identities, or as an expression of the longue durée of social, economic and political institutions
that directly impact and shape the human actions and experiences that
make up more localised life-worlds.
Generally, these differences tend to reflect shades of emphasis, rather
than any categorical distinctions between distinct lines of enquiry. As a
result, landscape approaches are a useful means of facilitating a more
embracing scholarship that seeks to connect themes and explore chains
of relationships. In particular, landscape studies can unite the strengths
of the experiential approach which examines the immediacy of human
engagements, with analysis of the social and cultural understandings
of inhabitants caught up in landscape transformations. When combined with structural analyses of landscape history, these experiential
Landscape and Culture in Northern Eurasia
approaches also situate persons in a historically-shaped environment,
and illustrate how the cumulative actions, routines and choices made by
individuals and communities can actually shape processes of long-term
THE POTENTIALS OF CIRCUMPOLAR LANDSCAPE RESEARCH
Anthropological studies of cultural landscapes have been of crucial importance in opening out a deeper appreciation of the immense range of
diversity that characterises human engagements with the environment. In
particular, landscape-based studies of Australian hunter-gatherer communities have provided a fundamental challenge to simplistic notions
of a clear-cut division between ‘natural’ environments and human culture. For Aborigines, the physical landscape is understood at all times
as being social, symbolic, ritual and practical, serving on a conceptual
level as both a moral code and tribal encyclopaedia (Myers 1986). In
turn, the abundant literature on Aboriginal ‘Dreamtime’ landscapes has
gone on to make a particularly significant contribution to interpretive
archaeology, occasionally providing explicit—but more often implicit—
inspiration for seeking out new and more ‘humanised’ ways of exploring
the form and content of prehistoric social worlds (e.g., Edmonds 1999;
Further studies of indigenous engagements with landscape have been
highly insightful (see Carmichael et al. 1994; Hirsch and O’Hanlon 1995;
Ingold 2000; Ucko and Layton 1999). However, the geographic coverage of this research has been highly uneven. In contrast to a landscape
literature dominated by Australia, Africa and the Americas, indigenous
peoples living across vast tracts of Northern Eurasia have been conspicuously absent from recent international scholarship and debate (but see
Jordan 2001a, 2003; Khariuchi and Lipatova 1999; Ovsiannikov and
Terebikhin 1994; Vitebsky 1992; chapters in Kasten 2002; Krupnik et
al. 2004), and yet the investigation of these communities, and their relationships to the land, has so many fresh insights to offer.
The curious absence of landscape-orientated research in Northern
Eurasia certainly highlights a potentially productive area for future research, and the chapters in this volume illustrate some of the ways in
which these opportunities might be realised. At the same time, my underlying motivation for publishing this volume does not stem from a desire to ensure that landscape research goes on to achieve some form of
respectable ‘global coverage’. Instead, I would like to use the next section of this introductory chapter to examine how and why the dearth of
northern landscape research reflects a more general situation in which
Landscape and Culture in Northern Eurasia: An Introduction
Siberia’s indigenous peoples—when compared to almost all other world
regions—remain poorly represented in English-language discussion and
debate. If we can understand why Siberian ethnography has remained
aloof from international debate, then we can start to outline justifications for using the landscape approach to address this situation.
In this way, the real long-range goal of this volume is to rehabilitate
and revitalise an immense and largely-unknown body of distinguished
Russian-language ethnographic, ethno-historic and historical literature
that embraces more than half the circumpolar world. Adoption of a new
and galvanising focus on northern landscape research provides only an
analytical vehicle for making these rich and under-researched materials increasingly accessible—and also more intellectually-relevant—to
some fundamentally-important debates that span current international
anthropology and archaeology.
Before we start to focus on northern cultural landscapes, it is crucial
to understand why Siberian ethnography was largely left out ‘in the cold’
by Western researchers when the region had so much to offer. When
viewed from an ‘outside’ perspective the development of Siberian ethnographic research falls into a number of discrete stages (for a detailed
discussions, see Schweitzer 2000, with references). Interestingly, the lack
of knowledge about Siberia is a rather recent phenomenon—Schweitzer
argues that ‘pre-twentieth-century scholarship outside of Russia was reasonably well-informed about Siberian peoples’ (2000, 31). In particular, the early years of the 20th century were particularly productive in
providing information about Siberia in languages other than Russian.
For example the Jesup North Pacific Expedition (1897–1902), under the
direction of Franz Boas, led to an unprecedented degree of collaboration
between Russian and American anthropologists (see Gray et al. 2003;
More widely, Western anthropologists were active across the North,
publishing their ethnographic descriptions and comparative analyses in a range of European languages other than Russian, frequently
in English, but often also in German which was a major language of
European scholarship until the late 1940s (see references in Schweitzer
2000, 31). Many early English-language publications went on to form
the ‘classic’ (and perhaps now over-cited) ethnographies of Siberian peoples (e.g., Bogoras 1904–09, 1925; Czaplicka 1914; Hallowell 1926;
Jochelson 1905–08, 1910–26, 1928; Shirokogoroff 1929, 1935). In contrast, the extraordinarily rich Russian- and German-language scholarship of this era has seen very little attention (see e.g., Jordan 2003, for
In contrast to popular assumptions, Siberia did not close off to
Western researchers immediately after the 1917 Communist Revolution.
Landscape and Culture in Northern Eurasia
Well into the 1920s continued contacts with American colleagues ‘helped
foster the open and international character of Russian/Soviet ethnography in the early decades of the twentieth century’ (Gray et al. 2003,
96). The situation only began to change after Stalin came to power,
and in a new political climate, in which international connections were
viewed with increasing suspicion, opportunities for international field research in Siberia began to decline. There was a sharp fall in international
academic contacts, and by 1930, the door had firmly closed (Gray et al.
Inside the USSR, ethnographic work on the northern peoples of
Siberia continued apace, for the closure of the international border affected communities of both local and international scholars: Soviet
researchers were now deprived of overseas fieldwork opportunities,
leaving Siberia, the Caucasus and Central Asia as the only remaining
‘exotic’ fieldwork locations (Gray et al. 2003, 31). Siberian ethnography
emerged as a dynamic research field within the ‘closed’ worlds of the
USSR, developing its own theory, fieldwork methodologies and intellectual rationale. Unfortunately, the linguistic and political barriers that
had emerged also ensured that the rich and diverse ‘work of Russian
scholars of the Soviet era was virtually unknown’ to Western anthropologists (Ingold 2002, 245).
More recently, there have been several useful reviews of work
undertaken during this period (Artemova 2004; Gray et al. 2003;
Schweitzer 2000; Shimkin 1990; Sirina 2004). In addition to the general
descriptions of ‘economic-cultural types’ and the tracing of ‘historicalethnographic provinces’, the analysis of ‘ethnogenesis’ emerged after
the 1960s as a central research theme (Gray et al. 2003, 198). The ethnic research agenda resonated well with wider political processes (see
Gray 2005 for an excellent summary of Soviet ethnicity policies), and
equipped ethnographers and historians with the politically-neutral task
of tracing the emergence of the modern ethnic groups that made up the
rank and file of the Soviet Union’s many ‘Peoples’ (Gray et al. 2003,
The overarching ‘ethnogenesis’ question also provided the basic
criteria for publishing scores of monographs and synthetic surveys meticulously documenting and cataloguing the cultural, social and spiritual traits of the various northern ‘peoples’. In particular, the study of
‘so-called “traditional” culture had a major role’ in Soviet ethnographic
research (Sirina 2004, 95). This provided a useful point of base-line contrast with the triumphant descriptions of later Socialist achievements
—collectivisation, re-settlement, boarding-school education, universal
health-care provision and so on—that concluded many ethnographic
studies (e.g., Levin and Potapov 1964).
Landscape and Culture in Northern Eurasia: An Introduction
As a result, most studies focused on the key ‘pre-Soviet’ bracket of
the late 19th/early 20th century: ethnography was framed as the collection
of facts depicting ‘traditional’ life-ways, including the fast-disappearing
aspects of material and spiritual culture still maintained by older generations born in pre-Socialist times (Gray et al. 2003, 205). In addition
to the formulaic documentation of traditional ‘material culture’ inventories (including ethnic typologies of housing, transport and subsistence
technologies, clothing, artefact styles and even shamans’ drums) (see
e.g., Levin and Potapov’s  extraordinary Ethno-historical Atlas
of Siberia), the description of indigenous mirovozzrenie or ‘world-view’
emerged as parallel avenue for documentation of native ‘spiritual culture’. As Sirina (2004, 95) notes, the ‘religious beliefs of the peoples of
the north, especially Siberian shamanism and its specific features’ were
of ‘paramount importance in studies of Soviet researchers’ while the
application of ‘animism theory…laid the basis for studying the worldviews of hunters, gatherers and fishermen.’
While the energetic research and publication efforts of Soviet
ethnographers continued apace, interest by Western anthropologists in
the vast, Soviet-administered tracts of the circumpolar north continued to
be stifled by the absence of fieldwork opportunities and the evaporation
of earlier academic contacts—the flow of English-language research out
of the USSR literature was reduced to a trickle, and the region gradually
started to fall out of discussion, debate and the collective anthropological consciousness, abandoned by scholars less interested in pursuing circumpolar studies in a politically- and linguistically-fragmented
Strangely, Siberia’s numerous hunting, fishing and gathering peoples were also ignored by a new generation of anthropologists enthused
by Julian Steward’s culture ecology (Schweitzer 2000, 31). Instead, the
remaining ‘pure’ hunter-gatherer band societies of Alaska, Africa and
Australia, became the primary focus in a vibrant era of international
fieldwork and debate. In contrast, Siberia’s native hunting peoples were
assumed to have been tainted by long-term culture-contacts, and it was
concluded that they had either been collectivised and assimilated, or else
had long since taken up either sedentary fishing along the coasts and/
or fully-pastoral subsistence in the interior (Murdock 1968, 16; and see
Schweitzer 2000, 33). In a growing atmosphere of ‘silence and other misunderstandings’ (Schweitzer 2000, 29), a limited number of Soviet-era
ethnographies did ‘leak’ out to the West (e.g., Levin and Potapov 1964;
translations by Michael 1962, 1963).
In probing some of the more complex reasons for Siberian ethnography being ignored by Western scholars, Schweitzer also highlights
some of the lost opportunities generated by this era of closed borders.
Landscape and Culture in Northern Eurasia
Citing Ingold’s (1986) classic paper on the origins of reindeer sacrifice
which was based on analysis of the available English-language ethnographies of Bogoras, Schweitzer asks what more might have been achieved
through a fuller, more systematic analysis of the extensive Russianlanguage Siberian ethnographies (Schweitzer 2000, 33). In a similar vein,
the very limited number of archaeological studies that began deploying
Siberian ethnographic parallels—in particular in rock art research—
also signalled productive directions for future comparative scholarship
(Helskog 1997; Jordan 2004; Tilley 1991; Zvelebil 1997; Zvelebil and
Jordan 1999). In general, however, there was little in the way of fresh
news about the contemporary situation of Siberian indigenous groups
until the very end of the 20th century.
Integrating this ‘lost era’ of Siberian scholarship into international
debate remains a long-term challenge for both Western anthropologists
and archaeologists. Sirina emphasises this strategic goal in her recent
evaluation of Soviet era hunter-gatherer studies:
taking an empirical look at the whole period of development of
Siberian research in Soviet times, one cannot be amazed by the
tremendous amount of materials collected…an urgent objective
currently is to bring theoretical and interpretive analysis to this
material and to integrate it with world…debates (Sirina 2004,
Greater Western involvement in Siberian ethnography only began
to emerge in the later Soviet period (e.g., Balzer 1980, 1981, 1987) and
by the 1980s, interest in Siberia was undergoing a rapid revival thanks
to the new political atmosphere of the Perestroika era which generated
new glimpses into the ‘real’ conditions of life in the USSR’s northern
territories. Landmark publications included Forsyth’s (1992) History of
the Indigenous Peoples of Siberia and there was further interest in analysis of the region’s hunter-fisher-gatherer societies (e.g., Barnard 2004;
Schweitzer et al. 2000). Increasing contacts with Russian academics was
complemented by a growing tide of international fieldwork in the region,
as a new generation of Western scholars took up new research opportunities (see Gray et al. 2003 for a full review of these events, personalities
and publications). By the 1990s, ‘Western anthropologists are crowding
the Siberian field’ (Schweitzer 2000, 41).
The key point I would like to make in this introductory chapter
is that the flavour of international research that followed the collapse
of the USSR was very different to the more descriptive Soviet ethnographic accounts of ‘traditional’ northern communities. In general,
Western research was predominantly concerned with picking up what