Soils of the cryolithozone and the traditional land use of the indigenous populations of North-Eastern European Russia

and Western Siberia: research problem statement 

Istomin K.V. (Syktyvkar, Russian Federation), Habeck J.O. (Hamburg, Germany)


                 page 108119


In this paper, ethnographic material on the Komi reindeer herders of eastern Bolshezemelskaya tundra and the Nenets reindeer herders of southern Gydan Peninsula is used to show how soil processes, which take place in the cryolithozone, can affect the life and economic practices of reindeer herding groups. It is demonstrated that such an impact can be direct as well as indirect. The direct impact consists, for example, in the influence of the permafrost on soil denaturing and, therefore, on the thixotropic properties of the soil. This affects the probability and the speed of soil turning into mud under the mechanical influence of reindeer trampling. Herders have to consider this probability and consider speeds of movement of the herd when they choose a camping place, plan the duration of their stay in this place and perform certain herding operations (e.g. rounding up the herd). The indirect impact continues through the permafrosts role in the microlandscape formation as well as through its influence on vegetation. The both play an important role in determining reindeer behaviour and affect the way tundra can be navigated on a reindeer sledge. The manner and degree to which these impacts influence reindeer herding practices depend on the herding technology, which differs between the two ethnic groups. Another example of the indirect impact can be seen in the huge role thermokarst processes play in the formation and change of tundra aquasystems. The formation of thermokarst lakes, their draining and formation of dry lake reservoirs with their typical hyperproductivity of biomass poses both challenges and new possibilities for reindeer herding. The relationship between permafrost soil processes and reindeer herding practices should be considered in order to allow a more accurate assessment of the consequences ongoing climatic change can have for the life and economy of northern aboriginals. Therefore, a study of this relationship represents a valid scientific topic crossing the borders between biology, geology and cultural anthropology.

Key words: reindeer herding, permafrost, cryogenic processes, global climate change, Komi, Nenets.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2019-44-1-108-119


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Article is published 2.04.2019 .


K.V. Istomin

Institute of Language, Literature and History, Komi Science Center of Ural Division RAS, Kommunisticheskaya st., 26, Syktyvkar, 167986, Russian Federation



J.O. Habeck

Institut für Ethnology, Universität Hamburg, Edmund-Siemers-Allee 1, Flügelbau West (ESA W), 20146, Hamburg, Germany