Ethnoarchaeology during Corona times: “Remote” fieldwork in Siberia and “hands on” research on Sami reindeer herding in Finland

Dietary ROOTS PhD candidate, Morgan Windle, was able to participate in an exciting field expedition with colleagues from the University of Oulu to Kilpisjärvi, Lapland, Finland at the end of July, adding to her original travel agenda to the Taiga of Western Siberia (postponed due to the Corona virus) as a part of her doctoral project Human-reindeer interactions in contemporary and ancient Siberian communities (supervised by Prof. Henny Piezonka and Prof. Cheryl Makarewicz).
Our Russian partners were able to carry out the planned expedition to the Taz Selkup communities on the lower course of the Pokal‘ky River in the forest zone of Western Siberia (in association with Henny Piezonka’s project Ethno-archaeological research among the Selkup, a mobile hunter-fisher community in Siberia). Here, families continue to practice mobile hunter-fisher lifeways and incorporate small-scale reindeer herding in their subsistence economy for transport purposes. The objectives of this trip were to document processes of incorporating reindeer husbandry in an economic system otherwise based on foraging, to document known archaeological and ethnographic sites, and to conduct further ethnoarchaeological research via interviews, artefact documentation, as well as participant observation of practices among the Selkup families. In d oing this, Aleksandr Kenig and his team were able to circumvent Morgan’s absence and collect data particularly pertinent to her project with the aid of Taz Selkup family members (Fig. 1-2).

Morgan Windle
Figure 1: Russian partners and Selkup family members collecting hair samples from the herd on Morgan's behalf (photo: A. Kenig).

Morgan Windle
Figure 2: Selkup family member collecting hair samples from the herd for isotopic analysis (photo: A. Kenig).

While Russian colleagues were in Siberia, Morgan was in Kilpisjärvi. The aims of this fieldwork were to understand the status of reindeer herding in this part of Lapland (Fig. 3-4) with an emphasis on Sami practices and the tensions between the inhabitants of the tourist town of Kilpisjärvi and indigenous reindeer herders (Fig. 5). Additionally, explorations of the Mallan luonnonpuisto (Malla Strict Nature Reserve) were carried out in search of remnants of bunkers (Fig. 6) and prisoners of war camps from WWII – all of which occupy an important traditional grazing space for reindeer, but which herders are no longer allowed to access legally. For Morgan, she was especially interested in learning from the local Sami reindeer herders (Fig. 7), who grew up in mobile families and could provide insights into the old ways of Sami herding strategies. Additionally, unlike the dense forest of the Siberian taiga, the open upland tundra landscape provided Morgan with the opportunity to understand the potential differences between human-reindeer systems within a more global perspective.


Morgan Windle
Figure 3: One of the many young reindeer that Morgan encountered in Finland (photo: M. Windle).

Morgan Windle
Figure 4:  A herd of reindeer that was encountered on the customs platform between the Finnish and Norwegian borders (photo: M. Windle).

Morgan Windle
Figure 5: View of Kilpisjärvi's most prominent feature in the landscape, the Saana fell (photo: M. Windle). Morgan Windle
Figure 6: Scraps from WWII bunkers on the north side of the Saana fell (photo: M. Windle).

Morgan Windle
Figure 7: One of the reindeer herders who Morgan met on her fieldtrip during an interview on his property (photo: M. Windle).

During particular outings with herders, she not only visited spaces for reindeer milking that were historically used by the Sami people when they were still mobile pastoralists a few decades ago but also observed the traditional round-up spaces for slaughter (Fig. 8) and earmarking (Fig. 9). Notably, cross-cultural interest in Morgan’s work was displayed by the reindeer-herders during these dialogues, in which they were interested in hearing from Morgan about Siberian herding and the endurance of traditional lifeways on the Siberian tundra and taiga. This was an unexpected result of Morgan’s visit in Finland, which demonstrated the impacts of ethnographic fieldwork, i.e. that the investigations on reindeer herding are not only an exercise relevant to scientific research but also for the indigenous communities themselves. It was an incredibly fruitful trip for the project as it yielded additional interregional insights on reindeer husbandry in northern ecosystems and provided an opportunity to enhance the ethnoarchaeological fieldwork required to understand reindeer domestication, while also becoming more informed on circumpolar indigenous issues outside Morgan’s study area and her home country of Canada.

Morgan WindleFigure 8: Traditional place for Sami people to slaughter reindeer, which is now used to round up herds to send them to EU slaughterhouses (photo: M. Windle).

Morgan WindleFigure 9: Camp platform where reindeer-herding families live during the earmarking round-up season. Sitting optimally high in the open tundra, families are able to watch over their herds during this busy time when the herd is separated and marked (photo: M. Windle).


Acknowledgements: The field trip to Northern Finland was hosted by the Departments of Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Oulu in collaboration with the ERC and the Academy of Finland funded project "Domestication in Action" (DiA). Morgan would like to thank Hannu I. Heikkinen (Cultural Anthropology), Vesa-Pekka Herva (Archaeology), and Mathilde van den Berg (DiA doctoral student) for leading the field organization. Thanks are also extended to Aleksandr Kenig (Archaeology and Ethnoarchaeology), Andrei Novikov (Archaeology and Ethnoarchaeology) and their teams for carrying out data collection on Morgan’s behalf on the taiga during their field research. We are greatly indebted to the Selkup partners for kindly sharing their expertise and resources. Finally, Morgan would like to thank her supervisors Henny Piezonka and Cheryl Makarewicz for their continued support amidst the difficulties during Corona times. Without their encouragement and creative problem solving, these two advancements in Morgan’s work would not have been possible.

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