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Domestication in Action - Tracing Archaeological Markers of Human-Animal Interaction

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - DOMESTICATION (Domestication in Action - Tracing Archaeological Markers of Human-Animal Interaction)

Reporting period: 2021-02-01 to 2022-07-31

The purpose of this research project is to create new methodology for identification and interpretation of past and present animal domestication, with a case study pertaining to reindeer domestication among the
indigenous Sámi in northern Fennoscandia. Identification of early animal domestication is complicated as it is anticipated that human control is limited over the animals’ life cycle. This leads to difficulties in interpreting morphological and genetic data, as well as in using traditional concepts and definitions of domestication. These problems are especially pressing in the study of past reindeer domestication, as human control over the reindeer’s life cycle has been, and still is, very limited, complicating the application of traditional methods and concepts. However, understanding reindeer domestication is important to local communities as well as to the scientific community due to the central role of human-reindeer relationship as a carrier of culture and identity among many peoples, including the Sámi of Northern Fennoscandia, as well as because of the wider relevance of the results for human-animal studies.

The project focusses on interactional events between humans and animals as indications of domestication taking place. The project will create methods aimed at identifying interactional events such as draught use and feeding, between reindeer and humans. Draught use of reindeer will be examined with physical activity reconstruction, which entails the examination of draught-related changes and stress markers on reindeer bone. Reindeer feeding practices will be accessed through the examination of stable isotope values as well as skeletal changes related to feeding behavior. The methodological package is novel in domestication studies. Participatory ethnography among reindeer herders will be conducted to examine the current understanding of personhood and agency of domesticated reindeer, which will help to conceptualize past understandings of human-domesticate relationships. The new methodological package will then be applied to archaeological reindeer bone finds. Ultimately, the results will be used to examine changing human-animal relationships among the indigenous Sámi.
The project has started with data collection and method development. We have collected skeletons of modern working reindeer and utilized the skeletons of modern wild and domesticated reindeer in museum collections to establish a protocol to identify reindeer physical activity patterns on skeletal remains through pathological lesions, entheseal changes, bone cross-sections and geometric morphometrics. These results are published, in press, or evaluated for publication.

Archaeological analyses concentrated on reindeer bone material from Sámi offering places indicate that there were changes in ritual and religious practices connected with the transition to reindeer herding. The transition to reindeer herding affected Sámi ritual practices. Furthermore, ritual practices changed simultaneously in large areas and in areas where reindeer herding was not the main source of livelihood. These observations testify of shared religious practices and relationships to the land and its resources among the Sámi. We also have demonstrated using stable isotope analysis that reindeer supplementary feeding began as early as 800 years ago in some regions of Northern Fennoscandia. Data collection for archaeological analysis will continue in Autumn 2020.

We have also scrutinized the effects of wild reindeer hunt and reindeer pastoralism on the development of trade connections in Medieval Northern Fennoscandia. We concluded that while earlier research has stressed the importance of fur trade in the economy of the Medieval Northern Fennoscandia, it is more likely that reindeer and fish products were the most important resources that affected the development of the economy and livelihood. Furthermore, we have observed that reindeer were an integral part of the northern trade networks as both merchandise and source of traction, as well as a nexus of the multiethnic and multispecies community of Medieval and Early Modern Northern Fennoscandia.

Participatory interviews have been conducted in 2019-2020. The data collection and analysis are finished and the results are expected to be published in 2021. The main results show that the character, behaviour and morphology of the reindeer have an important role in training and other interactions.It was highlighted by the herders that training of draught reindeer is based on a mutual trust between reindeer and human, established with frequent contacts and starting at an early age. Herders saw that training and use of draught reindeer maintains a close relationship with reindeer. Moreover, draught reindeer raising was seen to play an important role in reindeer herding culture and increase its visibility.
We have created novel methodologies for identification of early-stage domestication through physical activity markers such as pathological lesions, entheseal changes and bone geometric morphometrics. We expect to utilize these methods on archaeological material to gain a more detailed understanding of the process of reindeer domestication.

We have demonstrated that stable isotope analysis can be used to identify winter supplementary feeding of reindeer, and that the practice begun already 800 years ago.

We have scrutinized the role of wild and domesticated reindeer in the economy and livelihood of the multiethnic community residing in Medieval and Early Modern Northern Fennoscandia. We have concluded that the role of the reindeer in the lives of these communities has been far greater than previously understood.

We have obtained new fine-grained information on the effects of reindeer domestication on the worldview and religious practice of the Sámi through new radiocarbon datings, stable isotope and zooarchaeological analyses.

We expect to obtain new information on the beginning of reindeer domestication and early reindeer herding practices through the analysis of archaeological data with a multidisciplinary set of methods utilized in the project.