University of Oulu

Pelletier, M., Kotiaho, A., Niinimäki, S. et al. Identifying early stages of reindeer domestication in the archaeological record: a 3D morphological investigation on forelimb bones of modern populations from Fennoscandia. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 169 (2020).

Identifying early stages of reindeer domestication in the archaeological record : a 3D morphological investigation on forelimb bones of modern populations from Fennoscandia

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Author: Pelletier, Maxime1; Kotiaho, Antti2; Niinimäki, Sirpa1;
Organizations: 1Archaeology, History, Culture and Communication Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Department of Radiology, Oulu University Hospital, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 7.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2020
Publish Date: 2020-09-28


Reindeer herding probably developed during the Late Iron Age onwards and is still an important part of the subsistence and culture of many peoples in northern Eurasia. However, despite the importance of this husbandry in the history of these Arctic people, the period and place of the origin as well as the spread of domestic reindeer is still highly debated. Besides the existence of different breeding methods in these territories, identifying domesticated individuals in the archaeological record is complicated because reindeers are considered to still be in the early phases of the domestication process. Indeed, the traditional morphological markers used in zooarchaeology to decipher the domestication syndrome are hardly perceptible in these early stages. In this work, we propose solutions for identifying domestic reindeer bones using 3D geometric morphometrics on isolated elements from the long bones of the forelimb (i.e. humerus, radio-ulna and metacarpal). These bones are important to understand both the feeding behaviour and the mobility of reindeer, and the potential effect of load-carrying or draught in the case of domestic reindeer. We analysed 123 modern specimens from Fennoscandia, including the two interbreeding subspecies currently present in these territories: mountain reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) and forest reindeer (R.t. fennicus); and where the sex and the lifestyle were known (i.e. free-ranging, racing or draught and captive individuals). A good level of discrimination between the size and shape variables of the bones of the forelimb was found among both subspecies and sexes. Moreover, individuals bred in captivity had smaller bone elements and a thinner and more slender morphology than free-ranging individuals. This demonstrates that the long bones of the forelimb can provide information on changes in feeding and locomotor behaviour prompted by the domestication process, like control and/or reduction of mobility and food of individual reindeer by humans. This also demonstrates that analysis in 3D geometric morphometrics is useful in detecting reindeer incipient domestication markers. Our results can be used by archaeologists to trace the early stages of domestication from fossil reindeer remains, and aid in reconstructing the socio-economic changes of past Arctic populations over time.

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Series: Archaeological and anthropological sciences
ISSN: 1866-9557
ISSN-E: 1866-9565
ISSN-L: 1866-9557
Volume: 12
Issue: 8
Article number: 169
DOI: 10.1007/s12520-020-01123-0
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 615 History and archaeology
Funding: Open access funding provided by University of Oulu including Oulu University Hospital. This research was funded by the Academy of Finland (Project numbers 275635 and 308322) and the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant 756431).
EU Grant Number: (756431) DOMESTICATION - Domestication in Action - Tracing Archaeological Markers of Human-Animal Interaction
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 275635
Detailed Information: 275635 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
308322 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
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