University of Oulu

van den Berg, M., Wallen, H. & Salmi, AK. The osteometric identification of castrated reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) and the significance of castration in tracing human-animal relationships in the North. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 15, 3 (2023).

The osteometric identification of castrated reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) and the significance of castration in tracing human-animal relationships in the North

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Author: van den Berg, Mathilde1; Wallen, Henri1,2; Salmi, Anna-Kaisa1
Organizations: 1Archaeology, History, Culture and Communication Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2022
Publish Date: 2023-07-12


Reindeer are the only domestic cervid and have formed the cosmologies and practical daily lives of numerous peoples in the Northern Hemisphere for thousands of years. The questions of when, how, and where reindeer domestication originated and how it developed remain one of the scientific enigmas of our time. The practice of reindeer castration is an essential feature of all communities practicing reindeer herding today. It has probably been one of the most important interventions in the reindeer’s life cycle and biology that marked the start of domesticating human-reindeer relationships long ago. Castration is and has been essential for reindeer taming, control, training, herd management, and ritual practices. Unsuitably, to this present day, there are no methods zooarchaeologists can employ to distinguish a reindeer gelding from a reindeer bull in the archaeological record. In this current paper, we outline a new method that presents the possibility of differentiating between full males, castrated males, and females based on osteometric features. We measured the leg bones and pelvis of the complete or partial skeletons of 97 adult modern domestic reindeer individuals to determine the precise effects castration has on skeletal size and morphology. We explored our osteometric dataset with different statistical methods. We found a clear separation of the two male groups in the radioulna, humerus, and femur but in the tibia and metapodials to a lesser extent. Osteometric depth and width were generally more affected than the longitudinal axis. Females were easily distinguishable from castrates and full males based on nearly every bone measurement. Our analysis shows that reindeer castration can be proven through osteometric analysis.

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Series: Archaeological and anthropological sciences
ISSN: 1866-9557
ISSN-E: 1866-9565
ISSN-L: 1866-9557
Volume: 15
Issue: 1
Article number: 3
DOI: 10.1007/s12520-022-01696-y
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. Open-access funding is provided by the University of Oulu. 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: 308322
Detailed Information: 308322 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
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