Deer were domesticated a thousand years earlier than previously thought

An anthropologist at the University of Alberta has discovered what may be the earliest evidence of deer domestication in the Eurasian Arctic. When examining the remains of ancient dogs in a place called Ust-Polui, near Salekhard in northern Siberia, Robert Lozi and his team discovered a number of artifacts that are apparently associated with reindeer teams. Radiocarbon dating established an age of about 2000 years. About this writes the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.

In May-June 2019, the Lozi team spent a month living with modern Nenets native reindeer herders in the Yamal tundra above the Arctic Circle. Researchers carefully studied the artifacts and, with the help of the indigenous population – the Nenets – identified them as hats for training young deer to stretch a sled.

“We were not sure of any of these artifacts: what this thing is or how it works. It was just a bunch of belts, horns, and swivels – some kind of mess”.

University of Alberta Anthropologist Robert Lozi

Previous studies have shown that deer domestication began only a few hundred years ago in northern Europe, possibly back in the 11th century in northern Siberia, based on evidence of genetic changes in reindeer. However, many scientists have long suspected that domestication began much earlier. Because understanding the relationship between humans and animals is equally important, the study argues, because domestication will not necessarily be detected by detectable morphological or genetic changes.

After studying the details of the hats, scientists with the help of the indigenous population came to the conclusion that they must have been used for training since they would be too uncomfortable for the deer to wear them for a long time.

Deer contribute to the life of modern cattle-breeding Nenets in almost all possible ways, forming the basis of their cattle-breeding economy. They sell them in the market to buy snowmobiles, food, even mobile phones, and computers.

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