3 Humans in the tundra.
1.1 The process of human occupation
The first inhabitants of the tundra settled many centuries ago in the northern margins of the habitable lands, although since then Arctic explorers, sailors plying the freezing waters of the ice floes, and the staff of the weather stations of the Arctic islands have gone beyond these lands. At the moment, almost all the native peoples of the Arctic are a minority in their native territories. They do not represent more than 5% of the population now living in the area, which is of diverse origins (Canadian and U.S. citizens of European origin, mainly British, in North America; Scandinavians in Greenland and Iceland and the north of the Scandinavian Peninsula; Slavs, Tartars, and other nationalities of the Russian Federation in the rest of Eurasia).
Hunters and reindeer herders in Eurasia
Humans could not occupy the tundra until the ice masses had retreated. Then, following the reindeer that were the basis of their economy, they went further and further north, beginning in the areas where the ice retreated first. The culture generated by the peoples that colonized the tundra was totally based on hunting wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). The establishment of the current climate, roughly 7,000 years ago, set what were until very recently the northern limits of human settlement. Even now, the reindeer-related rites practiced by the tundra's inhabitants are surprisingly identical, despite their linguistic and other cultural differences. They are vestiges of a social structure and a set of beliefs common to the ancestors of the peoples now spread throughout the tundra, in Eurasia, North America, and Greenland.
The reindeer hunters, the first settlers of the postglacial tundra, had a seminomadic lifestyle like other Mesolithic human populations of hunter-gatherers, and some of their descendants still do. Even now, most of the peoples that live near the Arctic Circle go to the tundra to spend the brief but beautiful northern summer, when countless flocks of birds arrive on the coastline and the edges of the tundra, the river ice begins to melt, fish become active once more, and the reindeer trek to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Like them, the first human settlers of the Arctic spent the winter months on the edge of the forest, where the herds of reindeer sheltered from the extreme cold and the blizzards of the tundra. These first settlers lived in small groups, each one with about seven adult males, and had a thorough knowledge of the migratory customs of the animals and the fords where the reindeer crossed the rivers, the best sites to catch the largest number. They knew how to make bows, arrows, spears, and boats with a wooden or bone frame covered in reindeer skin. During the winter, they lived in shelters or caves, and in the summer they lived in portable dwellings similar to camping tents. They believed in the maternal principle of nature.
It is not known how many people lived in the Eurasian tundra in the Mesolithic, but it is possible to make rough estimates. A relatively reliable technique to determine the number of humans that could live by hunting reindeers is to calculate, in the first place, the area of grazing the reindeer could have fed on in the distant past. Supposing that the human species was the top carnivore, it can be deduced that there were in the order of 15,000 people in the strip of tundra from Scandinavia to the Bering Strait: not very many. There may have been a few more, taking into account the other food resources available (fish, birds, rabbits and other animals).
It is not difficult to imagine what happened when newcomers from more southerly regions--the last Samoyed (the direct ancestors of the modern-day Nenets), the Tungus in the east, or the Chukchis on the Pacific coastline--entered this sparse population. The new arrivals brought herds of domesticated reindeer, which they protected, while hunting the wild ones. Everywhere, the human species has resolved the conflict between domesticated animals and wild ones in favor of domesticated animals, especially when both had to share the same grazing. Nowadays, the wild reindeer has been able to survive the human pressure only in the Taymyr Peninsula.
Coastal hunters and fishers in North America
The northern edge of North America was also severely affected by the Quaternary glaciations, the last of them from 80,000 years ago to 14,000 years ago, peaking 20,000 years ago. It was this ice age that most influenced the spread of human beings from Asia to the Americas. Even now, 80% of Greenland is still covered by an ice cap. Asia and North America, however, were not always separated by the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Strait. Eleven thousand years ago what is now the Bering Sea and the Chukchi Seas was dry land and is known to paleobiogeographers as Beringia. The sea retreated because of the glaciations and uncovered the dry land in that region for the last time between 28,000 and 10,000 years ago. Beringia was then a genuine land bridge between Asia and North America, even though it was covered in snow for long periods. It seems, however, that both before and after the peak of the glaciation, there were waves of migration from Asia to North America. Even in these times of relatively optimal climates, Beringia must have been a treeless area, with only steppe or tundra vegetation and very cold, dry (owing to the freezing of the water), and windy. It is thus not surprising that the people who crossed the area later preferred to settle in more southerly and hospitable regions. Only the Inuit and the Aleutians have remained in the northern edge of North America, and they were the third and last wave of humans to cross the Bering Strait from Asia to North America, where they appear to have arrived about 8,000 years ago.
The Vikings in Iceland and Greenland
The Scandinavians settled the high latitudes long ago. They colonized the Scandinavian Peninsula relatively early, pushing the Finns and Samer (or Lapps) that lived there further north. They were restless sailors, and as Scandinavia soon became too small for them, from time to time a group set off in search of the Pole Star and never came back. Some of these groups of Vikings reached Iceland, previously reached only by Irish monks who retired to the island to live as hermits, around 875 A.D., and founded a colony. They were soon followed by new settlers, and what was a fledgling Viking colony at the end of the 9th century had a population of 70,000-80,000 by the end of the 11th century.
One of the luckiest of these sailor navigators was Erik Thordvalsson, Eric the Red (c. 940-c. 1010). After three years, travels through the south of the enormous island he named Greenland, upon completing his exile, he returned to Iceland. His fellow countrymen believed his reports, and in 986 he returned to Greenland with a fleet of 25 ships loaded with colonists, livestock, and grain, but only 14 are said to have arrived. Of the 700 aboard, only 350 colonists ever arrived in Greenland, the others did not survive the harsh crossing: they turned back or sank, many of them dashed against the rocks at Cape Farewell, at the southern tip of Greenland.
Once in Greenland, the Norsemen founded different settlements in what later became known as the eastern colony (Osterbygd), at the southwestern tip of the island, near contemporary Qaqortoq (Julianehab). Later, they colonized the area they called the Vesterbygden (western colony), to the northwest of the first settlements, near present-day Nuuk (Godthab). The Vikings increased rapidly but never exceeded 11,000. They were converted to Christianity shortly after 1000 A.D., and for 500 years (a period as long as that separating us from the discovery of America by Columbus) the Viking colonists in Greenland developed a culture totally comparable with the Scandinavians of Europe and neighboring Iceland. They even built many stone buildings, most of them religious, including ten majestic churches and monasteries. Their ruins, some in Julianehab Fjord, still astounded travelers at the beginning of the last century. The colonists raised cows, horses, goats, sheep, and pigs, descended from the animals taken on the first ships, and hunting (hares, birds, seals) and fishing (trout and several species of salmon) provided additional food sources. The grain, as well as the hay, went to the livestock, as evidence appears to show that the Greenland colonists did not make bread.
The Vikings were in constant cultural contact with the Inuit, then in the cultural phase known as the Thule culture. They supplied the Vikings with products from hunting whales and other marine mammals, while incorporating, in conditions that are still unknown, some elements of Viking culture. In the second half of the 14th century, however, there was a noticeable cooling of relations between the Vikings and the Inuit. Later, the living conditions sharply deteriorated for the settlers of Greenland. The climate cooled, commerce declined, and living conditions became precarious, as clearly shown by the nutritional deficiencies revealed by the human skeletons found in 14th-century Greenland cemeteries, showing weak and deformed skeletons, fragile bones, and a sunken sternum. The worsening climate made it impossible to maintain the livestock that was necessary to them, and milk and meat became scarce. There were several reasons for the decline in trade, but all of them contributed to reducing the supply of merchandise from European ports: the Black Death that had affected Europe eventually reached Iceland and Greenland in the early 15th century; after the Treaty of Stralsund (1360), the powerful Hanseatic League obtained great privileges from the Danish Crown and disrupted navigation of the Scandinavian countries; and there was fierce competition in the market for Greenland's most important export products (Arctic fox pelts and walrus tusks) due to the large number of pelts the Russians put on the market and the importation of elephant ivory from Africa.
Exactly when and how the last traces of Viking culture died out in Greenland is now lost in history. Inuit legends do not clarify the last struggles of the Vikings' descendants in Greenland. It seems that the last warriors died near Qaqortoq. When the Danish fleet anchored again in Greenland, in 1474, it was received only by Inuit. After this last visit, the relations between Greenland and Europe were ruptured for more than a century.
The Russians in the northern territories
After the foundation of Novgorod on the shores of Lake Ilmen in the mid-9th century, the Russians began to expand towards the north. Novgorod was a city-state and later became the capital of the most northerly of the Russian states. The city was sited in the taiga but was the key to the routes leading to the north. The predecessors of the Russians in these lands, peoples who spoke Finnish languages, had also preceded them in exploring the north, but they left no written records. Only in the early 11th century, when Novgorod became independent of Kiev (1019), did references to the "midnight lands" begin to appear in Russian chronicles. The oldest known references to the Samoyed date from precisely this period. The ancestors of the contemporary Nenets, both Europeans and Asians, who now live dispersed throughout the Arctic region, from the Dvina to the Yenisey, raising reindeer, were already major raisers of this animal, whose flesh was their main food, according to accounts of the time.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, the Arctic came in a sense more or less under the rule of Novgorod the Great, then in its golden age. Russian hunters and traders continuously visited the northern tundra. At a time when traveling overland was very difficult and travelers and traders preferred sea and river routes, the Russians came up with a very special route to reach the northern lands faster. The English, Danes, and other Europeans of the time who ventured into the Arctic Ocean continued to sail along the coastline, sailing around each of the Arctic peninsulas and islands, and continued to do so for a long time. The Russians, however, took more direct routes, cutting across the isthmus of each peninsula and thus reached even the remotest tundra faster. Thus, for example, they opened paths all the way along the rivers of the Kanin and Yamal Peninsulas, and they also built voloki, a sort of wooden derrick they used to drag the boats over dry land at the narrowest point between the rivers. Using voloki the Russians made good speed to the Ob, the Taz, and the rivers of the lower basin of the Yenisey. This voyage through the basins of the lower Ob and its neighbors, was then known as "going to Yugoria," a name derived from Yugra, the name given to the native Samoyed population. At first, the Russians were more interested in the taiga than the tundra. The dense forests of the taiga contained the main wealth of the north at the time: the sable (Martes zibellina). Overhunting soon caused sable populations to crash, making it necessary to go further north to find them.
In the 15th century, during the reign of Ivan III, known as "Ivan the Great" (1462-1505), Novgorod was incorporated into Muscovy (1478), together with most of the Russian principalities. Ivan III was the first Prince of Muscovy who governed a united Russia and who was not considered to be a vassal of the Golden Horde. He also sent a series of military expeditions to Yugoria to annex it to Russia. The Russians did not become aware of the discovery of America until well into the 16th century, although the New World had appeared on the first world maps that were printed. The Russians, however, calmly continued to expand to the north and the east. During the reign of Ivan IV (known as "Ivan the Terrible"), there were well-beaten paths through the Russian north (most of them in the taiga), and the Stroganov family of merchants obtained permission from the Czar to explore and annex new lands for the Muscovite Crown. To reach the mouth of the Ob, in addition to the voloki, there were also known sea routes. Further south, in 1582 an army of cossacks commanded by Yermak Timofeyevich (?-1584) crossed the Urals and defeated the forces of Kuchum, the Tartar Khan, thus opening a new and safe route to western Siberia (see vol. 8, page 406). Thus, in the late 16th century and early 17th, cities began to appear in western Siberia, such as Tyumen (1586), Tobolsk (1587), Vekhaturye (1598), and Mangazeya (1601). Mangazeya, on the shores of the Taz, near the Arctic polar circle, was the most northerly of all and located in the tree tundra. This was the point where all the entry routes using voloki converged. Mangazeya was considered one of the richest places in Siberia, and was called the "crock of gold." Its foundation so far north is closely related to the progressive decline of the sable in the taiga, as it became necessary to go to the tundra to obtain the pelts required.
The arrival of peoples from more southerly regions left the local population at a disadvantage. Venereal diseases (known as the "Russian disease" by the Yakuts), smallpox, and measles all decimated populations that were already very small and lacked resistance to these diseases. The Yukaghir were a numerous people occupying a large area to the east of the Lena when the Russians arrived but had declined to 1,500 individuals at the end of the 19th century, and in 1960 it was estimated that there were no more than 400. According to one of this people's legends, the Russians did not manage to conquer them until they opened a box from which emerged a dense smoke that covered the earth and brought smallpox to the Yukaghir, who died in large numbers. However, even in these early days and ever since, the law has been on the side of the minority peoples. In the 17th century, several ukases (decrees from the Czar), ordered severe punishments for any crime affecting the aboriginal population of the north, and in 1822 a "Regulation for the Administration of Non-Russians" was approved, that divided the natives of Siberia into sedentary, nomadic, and itinerant peoples. The inhabitants of the tundra were considered as itinerant.
In 1732, the captain of the ship Gavriil, Ivan Fedorov, and the geodesist Mikhail Gvozdev reached the New World "opposite the Chukchi Peninsula." They found America and called it Kiimilat Land, meaning the country of the Inuit. Later, in 1741, Vitus Bering (1681-1741) and Alexei Chirikov repeated these discoveries and explored the coast of Alaska and the Aleutian Archipelago, but Vitus Bering died of cold and exhaustion on the island that now bears his name, and it was Sven Vaksel who took his report to Saint Petersburg. At the same time, some Russian hunters were already travelling to Alaska without considering it anything special and they returned with skins of the northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus), the sea otter (Enhydra lutris), and the American marten (Martes americana). On the orders of the Czarist administration, Nokolai Daurkin, of mixed Kazakh-Chukchi race, performed the crossing in winter over ice to Alaska and returned with very precise maps of the western coastline. While Fray Junipero Serra was founding the Mission of San Carlos Borromeo del Carmelo in 1770, the origin of the Californian city of Monterey, many Russian expeditions had set off to Alaska, and from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski merchant ships sailed continuously to the northwest of North America. In 1783, the merchant Grigori Chelekhov built his first three ships, spent the winter on Komandorskie Island, and reached Kodiak Island in Alaska. Soon afterwards, the slow but steady colonization of Alaska began. After a while they took some Aleutians, Inuits, and Native Americans to Saint Petersburg. At this time, there were in Irkutsk several dozen aborigines from Alaska who spoke Russian and knew sailing techniques. There was soon a regular presence of Russian Orthodox priests living with the Aleutians and the Inuit, including the future Metropolitan of Moscow, Innokenti Veniaminov, who wrote a dictionary and grammar of Aleutian and described their culture. Of the entire Arctic area, Christianity took root most strongly in Alaska.
1.2 The shared characteristics of the peoples of the tundra
The inhabitants of the Arctic areas of Eurasia, America, and Greenland have many features in common. In sites like these, where humans have to live in environmental conditions that require adaptation to a local environment that is beyond human biological limits, it is cultural adaptation that has made survival possible. The harshness of the environmental conditions explains why cultural responses coincide in many aspects. There are also, however, biological features shared by all the tundra peoples, some of which may facilitate the adaptation of these populations to the very harsh environments they live in.
In the first place, it should be mentioned that recent studies of mitochondrial DNA of populations considered to be aborigines of the most northerly inhabited latitudes suggest a common origin that is not very distant in time; the genetic divergence indicates that there was also a later process of evolutionary radiation. The tundra's bioclimatic features do not allow the development of many exploitable resources, and therefore, populations could not reach a high density. In these conditions, isolation led to a strong genetic drift and the founder effect, which refers to the change in gene frequencies that occurs in a population founded on few individuals, is very important (see also page 399).
The inhabitants of the northern tip have suffered strong natural selection pressure from the harsh environmental conditions, and this has favored the survival of the individuals best protected from the cold, that is to say, those with the most rounded morphology and with shorter limbs than people living in less cold latitudes. In effect, for the same volume, the lower the surface area in contact with the exterior, the lower the rate of heat exchange, and vice versa.
Other characteristics can be explained by the history of the populations. This is true, for example, of facial physiognomy. The Mongoloid facial characteristics these peoples share reveal their Asian origin: a relatively broad, flattened face, with prominent cheekbones, and often with an epicanthic fold (the fold in the upper eyebrow that is the reason for the typical slanting eyes of the Mongoloids); dark eyes and hair; low or medium stature; a rounded body; and a sparse beard and moustache. The high cheekbones and the large amount of subcutaneous fat (which is what gives them the appearance of having a flat face) may represent some protection against the cold and may thus have been favored in the climatic conditions of the Arctic, but this is not altogether certain. Among the Ural peoples, the typically Mongoloid characteristics increase from west to east, so that the peoples closest to Europe are more similar to the Europeans, and those furthest away more closely resemble Asiatic peoples.
The linguistic families
The genetic and morphological relationship may be associated with linguistic relationships. The languages that are spoken by the first inhabitants of the tundra belong to three main families: Uralic and Chukchi in Eurasia and the Eskimo-Aleut family in North America and Greenland. A thorough list of the peoples that colonized the tundra is basically the same as the peoples that speak Uralic and Chukchi languages in Eurasia and Eskimo-Aleut ones in North America and Greenland. The other groups of humans that arrived in the tundra later spoke languages belonging to other linguistic families, such as Turkish or Altaic in Asia and later, Indo-European both in Europe and in North America. The Eskimo-Aleut and Uralic linguistic families are grouped together by some authors, together with Indo-European, Altaic, and some isolated languages such as Korean, Japanese, Ainu, Gilyak, and Chukchi, to form a superfamily called Euro-Asiatic, on the basis of the relationship between all the languages of these families, implying that all of them are derived from a very ancient common language. If this were true, it would strengthen the evidence of the phyletic relationship between these peoples, in the same way as it reinforces the evidence for the relationship between their languages.
1.3 Humans in the western Eurasian tundra
At the height of the last glaciation, western Siberia and all of Fennoscandia, the physiographical region of northern Europe formed by the Baltic shield (Sweden Finland, Norway, Karelia and the Kola Peninsula), were covered by ice. All the current Arctic peninsulas lay beneath many meters of ice and the landscape was dominated by glaciers. Yet the life at the edges of the ice was rich, so rich that even now in the Arctic mammoth skeletons are still widely used to make all sorts of instruments, thousands of years after the species became extinct. In the areas where the ice cap was not very thick, the ice melted faster; this is why Scandinavia, Taymyr, Yamal, Gyda, and the tundra of northern Russia were settled later than eastern Siberia was. Thus, for example, the settlers of the Scandinavian region and the most northwesterly areas of the Russian Federation are the result of the mixture of the first Asiatic settlers, from the east, with populations of European origin who entered later from the south. The populations of these two regions reveal the mixture in their genetic composition, and they speak languages of the Uralic family.
The speakers of Uralic languages live in the most varied regions of northern Eurasia, from Scandinavia to the Yenisey, together with speakers of the Hungarian language, which is isolated in Central Europe. The Hungarians live right in the center of Europe and are genetically distant from the other speakers of Uralic languages, because the Magyars who took the language there were powerful enough to impose it by force of arms, but they were not numerous enough to have left much trace in contemporary populations. We know where the Magyar's closest relatives--the Khants (or Ostyak) and the Mansi (or Voguls)--came from and where they went: the tundra of the lower valley of the River Ob in Siberia. In fact, Uralic is thought to have originated in the area between the mid-Volga and the Urals, far to the south of the tundra, virtually on the limit between the forest and the steppe. The Uralic languages were formerly more widespread throughout Russia, as shown by the many place-names ending in -ma, -da, and -va; they spread to the west, as far as Hungary (the Magyar) and Scandinavia (the Samer and Balto-Finns), and to the east, crossing the Urals (the Samoyed) and settling in the taiga and the tundra of the Ob Valley and the interfluvial area between the Ob and the Yenisey.
A map of the current distribution of the Uralic peoples shows how they have spread, as the map displays not a continuous territory but only some relatively large dispersed patches, only some of which affect the tundra. This is the result of the occupation of an area, previously linguistically homogeneous but with a low population, by several waves of relatively numerous invaders who spoke languages belonging to different families. The geographical distribution of the languages of the initial settlers has been reduced to scattered areas that show the later superimposition of other languages. Centuries previously, before the Turks and Slavs reached the regions neighboring the Urals, the distribution of the languages of the Uralic family was much more compact.
The Samer peoples
The Samer (known disparagingly as Lapps to their neighbors) live in fragmented populations in small groups and are descendants of the most ancient inhabitants of Scandinavia, although their territory also spreads as far as pre-Ural Russia. They were the first inhabitants of the Scandinavian Peninsula, but the later arrival of the Finns, Germans, and Slavs pushed them to the northern area of Fennoscandia: Lapland, the frontier land.
The phylogenetic origin of the Samer is very obscure. One widely accepted hypothesis is that they are descendants of the Mongoloids originally from the west of present-day Siberia and the north of European Russia (where there are still some populations) who, at the end of the ice age, probably following the herds of reindeer that lived to the south of the retreating ice, went towards the west. Genetically, the Samer occupy a place intermediate between the Finns and the Samoyed. It is not known when they interbred with the Scandinavians, but it seems clear that the expansion of the Europeans pushed them farther and farther to the north, and resulted in a gene flow from Scandinavian populations to Samer populations, and not the other way round. The relationship between Samer and Europeans has lasted for many centuries and has always been highly unequal: Documents show that from the 8th century onwards the Samer had to pay a tribute in furs and dried fish to the Scandinavians, a tax that in one form or another has lasted until not very long ago. The Samer are morphologically highly variable; for example, some individuals have very light skin and others have very dark skin. The average height of the populations is very low and scarcely exceeds a meter and a half. The languages of the Samer belong to the Finno-Ugric group of the Uralic family, but despite their historic proximity to Finnish, they are not close enough to be included within a single branch. Even so the Samer languages show some similarity with Finnish and with the languages of the Finns of the Volga (Mordvinians and Udmurts). The Samer languages include, however, many borrowings from the Scandinavian languages (Norwegian and Swedish) as a result of close contact over many centuries. The different groups of Samer speak eight different dialects, some of them mutually unintelligible, which are generally grouped into three basic languages (northern, eastern, and southern). The Samer are now citizens of four countries (about 20,000 in Norway, a. 8,000 in Sweden, a. 2,500 in Finland, and a. 1,900 in Russia), and they appear to be the descendants of the first inhabitants of northern Europe, the paleo-Europeans descended from the Paleolithic arrival of humans in the previously uninhabited tundra of northern Europe.
The Samoyed peoples
The Samoyed peoples live in the tundra running from the White Sea to the lower stretches of the River Yenisey. They too speak Finno-Ugric languages, but they are very different from their western neighbors, the Samer. The Samoyed have exceptionally white skin, strong, black hair, and eyes that are usually brown, although some individuals have lighter skin color or hair. The origin of the Samoyed peoples, like the origins of all the tundra peoples, lie far to the south. Until 3,000 years ago, the Proto-Samoyed, the ancestors of the Enets, the Nenets, the Nganasan, and the Selkup (and also the Kamasians, Koybal, and Mator, Altaic peoples that conserved their languages, closely related to Selkup until the 19th century) were neighbors of the Ugrians of the Ob. They then spread throughout the taiga of western Siberia, where they specialized in rearing reindeer. It has not been precisely established when they reached this area, but it has been established that 2,000 years ago they had to move north towards the Bolshezemelskaya tundra, pushed by their southern neighbors. The beginning of this march coincided with the breakup of the Samoyedic language, which diverged into the languages now spoken by the Nenets, the Enets (the inhabitants of the lower Yenisey), the Nganasan (the inhabitants of Taymyr), and the Selkup (who lived to the south of the Nenets). Breeding between some Russian men who settled in the area around the 17th century and women of some group of Samoyedic speech, probably Enets, gave rise to the Sellduk, whose name derives from the seldiatka (Coregonus lavaretus, the Siberian whitefish), the fish that was their basic foodstuff.
The Nenets (singular, Nenet), the Samoyed with the most "European" appearance, occupy a large area of the Russian, European, and Asian tundra: the Kanin, Yamal, and Gydanskiy Peninsulas and all the adjacent areas between the River Dvina and the River Yenisey, an area they settled more than 500 years ago. Most Nenets live permanently in the tundra and cross the edge of the forest only in winter in search of grazing or shelter, an annual journey they perform following the reindeer herds (they are famous for their skill at rearing reindeer) when they travel thousands of kilometers.
The Enets differ in physical appearance. The face is wider, with a more Mongoloid appearance: a more strongly developed upper eyelid (with an epicanthic fold), small eyes, thick lips, and a short nose, with a very low bridge. Like the Nenets, they are not very tall. Half the Enet population, about 400 individuals, live around Dudinka; they are known as the "taiga Enets," although it would be more correct to call them the "tree tundra Enets." The Enets were once va hunting people but now raise reindeer on a large scale, like the Nenets. As late as the 19th century, their main economic activity was hunting wild reindeer. They caught so many that they had enough flesh and skins to trade with their neighbors for wooden bows and small ships from the peoples that lived up the River Yenisey: the Selkup, the Ket, and the taiga Enets. As they all spoke languages of the Samoyedic group, the Enets could communicate with them easily.
The Nganasan, the third of the Samoyedic-speaking tundra peoples, occupy the central tundra of the Taymyr Peninsula and number about a thousand. They were not very numerous in the past, either. In the 17th century, the Russians estimated there were about a thousand of them, but their numbers have always depended directly on the reindeer. The Nganasan have not converted to any majority religion: They maintain their shamanist beliefs. Furthermore, until recently they were very much inbred and did not marry the inhabitants of nearby villages. The younger generations are much more open to members of other populations and mixed marriages take place, especially with the Dolgan.
1.4 The humans of the eastern Eurasian tundra
To the east of the Taymyr Peninsula, the human populations become even more diverse in terms of their origins and languages: The Evenki, Yakuts of Turkish origin, Yukaghir of Samoyed origin, Chukchi and Inuit, without including the mixed-race peoples, whose origins are relatively distinct, but whose cultural identity is consolidated, such as the Dolgan, Chuvases, Kolimchans or Kamchadales or Itelmen. The low population of the mountainous eastern tip of Siberia is concentrated in the coastal areas. The inhabitants live by hunting marine mammals, and some raise livestock. The population of the area include groups of Yakut, Yukaghir, Chukchi, and other groups that have broken away from them or to the contrary have adopted their language or some other language of the Chukchi group, as well as Inuit and some Aleutians, who speak languages of the Eskimo-Aleutian family.
Most of the languages spoken in the eastern tundra belong to the Altaic or Chukchi families. The Altaic family includes the Turkish languages, the Tungusic (Manchu, Tungus) languages, and a small group of isolated languages, although some of them are spoken by a large number of people, such as Korean and Japanese. The distribution of the Altaic languages is not limited to the tundra but is more widespread far to the south, running across Asia from Turkey to Japan. The northern Turkish languages include Yakut and Dolgan, whereas the subgroup of the Tungusic languages includes Evenki.
The other important linguistic family in the eastern Eurasian tundra is Chukchi, (or Chukchi-Kamchadal), which includes Chukchi (or Chikot), Koryak, and Kamchadale (or Itelmen). The Chukchi languages are thought to be a very isolated linguistic family, but some recent studies relate them to the languages of the Eskimo-Aleutian family. The most important, Chukchi (or Chukot), is spoken by about 16,000 people, Koryak by about 8,000, and Itelmen by about 1,500. Apart from these dominant families, there is also the Yukaghir language (spoken by about 11 people in 1994), related to Samoyedic, and the Yuk language of the Siberian Inuit (a little over a thousand people), which they share with the Yuk of Alaska.
The Altaic peoples
From the Taymyr Peninsula to the lower Kolyma there are dunes inhabited by speakers of Altaic or Turkish languages: the northern Evenki, Yakut, and Dolgan.
The Evenki (the true Tunguses) used to occupy the whole of Siberia. Their current distribution is still very broad: from the Primorie District on the shores of the Sea of Japan to the Khatanga River in southeast Taymyr and as far as some of the more southerly areas of central Siberia and of Manchuria. Despite this broad distribution pattern, the only area where they are common is the north of Yakuty, near the courses of the Yana, the Lena, the Indigirka, and the Kolyma. Some ethnographers consider that the Evenki are the result of interbreeding, in the tundra, between nomadic Paleo-Tunguses who arrived in the more southerly areas and the native Yukaghirs who lived in the taiga of northern Yakuty. They now number about 17,000. The Evenki lived by hunting until the mid-19th century, but then turned to raising livestock. The Evenki that live further south in the taiga, travel on their reindeer, while the tundra Evenki use them as beasts of burden. After the Chukchi and the Nenets, the Evenki are the people of the Eurasian tundra with the most reindeer, but they move shorter distances than their western neighbors.
The Yakut are a people with a Turkish language that live in the Autonomous Republic of Yakuty, which stretches from the Arctic Ocean to the edges of Manchuria. There are about 300,000 Yakut (about 40% of the population of Yakuty), only a very small number of whom live in the tundra. They used to occupy a much larger area, but they were displaced by other groups, and in the 17th century, when they came into contact with the Russians, they lived in the middle Lena. Because of their culture, the Yakut are similar to the Tungus people who surround them, but their language links them to the other Turkish peoples, even though the nearest are more than 621 mi (1,000 km) away from Yakuty. Those who live in the tundra raise reindeer in the same way as the Evenki, from whom they almost only differ in their language.
The Dolgan also speak a Turkish or an Altaic language (for many, their language is just a dialect of Yakut). They live in the north of the Taymyr Peninsula and are a people who has formed in a period of just a few decades by interbreeding between Tunguses, Yakuts, and Russians. Since the end of the 18th century, Russian colonists had established settlements in a narrow strip from the River Pyasina to the Khatanga region. At the end of the 19th century, Yakuts and Tunguses (probably Evenki) reached this area from the east; the Dolgan are the result of the mixing of the three peoples. From the Tungu, they received their name; from the Yakut, they took their language; and from the Russians, they received the Christian religion and their main economic activities: hunting the Arctic fox and fishing. Those of the most eastern part of the Taymyr Peninsula also raise reindeer, although they sometimes have problems with the wild reindeer that are very common in the region, as they may attract some domesticated reindeer back to a life in the wild. This has led to a decline in reindeer-rearing among the Dolgan, compared with the middle of the 20th century, due to the increasing abundance of wild reindeer. The Dolgan vary greatly in physical appearance and are easily distinguished from their neighbors, the Nganasan; their features are either more European or like those of the Tunguses. Among the Dolgan, there are people with fair hair, although they have brown eyes, like the Tunguses. They are also taller than the Nganasan. They consider themselves Christians but are Christian in name only. They have developed a form of syncretic religion, and their shamans have included many Christian saints in the group of main spirits they invoke in their rituals.
The descendants of the first Russian settlements
The Dolgan are not the only descendants of the former Russian colonists who interbred with the native populations of the Eurasian tundra. The Sellduk have already been mentioned in the discussion of the Samoyeds, but in the ethnic map of eastern Siberia there are also some isolated areas inhabited by the descendants of Russians who arrived in the tundra in the 17th or 18th century.
Many of these small enclaves, however, have almost disappeared owing to intermarrying with the native residents (or with the much more numerous later Russian arrivals) and are only found in very small areas. The Russians who arrived in the northern tundra in the 17th and 18th centuries were explorers who went to Siberia mainly in search of the skins of the Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). They traveled without women, and if they settled in an area, they married women of the peoples native to the area. Within a generation, a colony of mixed race had formed that lived in peace with the indigenous peoples. This is how the Sellduk arose on the banks of the Yenisey, the result of interbreeding between Samoyeds and Russians, and how the Dolgan arose in Taymyr, from breeding among Russians, Tunguses, and Yakuts, while on the banks of the River Lena and the River Yana, other similar groups had already been assimilated by the Yakuts.
On the shores of the Indigirka, a group of descendants of Russians, Yukaghir, and Evenki still speak a language that is very similar to 17th-century Russian, and their oral tradition has faithfully conserved old Russian stories as they were told about 400 years ago. This is why the estuary of this river, where this archaic Russian population lives, is known as the "Russian mouth." In the lower Kolyma, another mixed-race population, descended from Russian colonists and Yukaghir, occupies a small stretch of the riverbanks near the mouth, and they are known in the Chukchi Peninsula as Kolimchan and Markovets. On the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Russians bred with the native populations, the Itelmen, giving rise to mixed-race bilingual descendants who spoke Chukchi and Russian.
Finally, there is also the Chuvases, an ethnic group that formed at the end of the 19th century in the southern part of the Chukchi Peninsula, at the northeastern tip of Siberia. They were a mixture of Yukaghir, Russians, and Chukchi. They received their name from the Yukaghir, and from the Chukchi, their language and their unmistakably Mongoloid appearance. There are now about 1,500 of them, who mainly live by rearing livestock, although they also hunt marine mammals and fish. Although some still remember the different languages spoken by their ancestors the Yukaghir, and although they also recognize their relationship to the early Russian colonists and speak Chukchi, they wish to distinguish themselves from the Chukchi.
The unusual case of the Yukaghir
The Yukaghir, who have been mentioned repeatedly, are reduced to a few hundred persons (of whom even fewer retain their language). Perhaps because the ice retreated in the eastern part of northern Siberia before it retreated in western Siberia, their ancestors were the first to separate from the other speakers of Uralic languages. Perhaps this is why they have diverged so far from the Uralic peoples both physically and linguistically that until recently it was not shown that the isolated Yukaghir language is related to the Uralic family, and especially to the Samoyedic languages. It has even been suggested that the families that first settled America might have belonged to a further group that also split off, but even earlier, from the common stem of the Uralic languages.
The physical appearance of the Yukaghir is very similar to that of the Evenki or the Lamut. They were known throughout Siberia as tireless hunters (especially of wild reindeer) and brave fighters. The most common given names among the Yukaghir include Detkil and Vodul, which mean "strong" and "brave." They used to subject their children to special training as soon as they started to walk. When they were 14 or 15 years old they had to undergo an unusual rite of passage, consisting of chasing a wolf in the tundra and killing it with their bare hands. Although they preferred to hunt on foot, in winter the Yukaghir hunters skied through the tundra after their prey. In addition to hunting, they were also so skilled at fishing that half their diet was fish. They were they only people of the Eurasian tundra to develop a written language, pictographic in nature, that was used mainly to communicate short messages, mainly about love, on birch bark. A few years ago, they had declined to about 500 individuals in scattered groups along the River Kolyma and the River Indigirka; posteriorly they have increased in number (800 in 1994), although only a hundred still speak their language.
The Chukchi and Eskimo-Aleutian peoples
The Chukchi and Eskimo-Aleutian languages were not considered to be related until recently, and although most linguists maintain the two are clearly distinct, many recognize there are unmistakable similarities between them. The Chukchi are genetically close to the Inuit, and in geographical terms, both occupy the extreme northeastern tip of Eurasia, although the Inuit people are also widely distributed in the North American tundra. The Chukchi are one of the most numerous peoples of the tundra, with a total of about 16,000 individuals. Generation after generation, the Chukchi have assimilated different neighboring peoples, such as the Yukaghir, the Koryaks, and the Kerek. The Chukchi are the only Arctic people that dominate the sea as well as the land, and they are even divided into stockraisers (chauxu) and hunters of marine mammals (amkaliin). The word Chukchi is derived from chauchau, which means "of the reindeer," and they were first reindeer hunters, then herders. The Chukchi are excellent athletes: As soon as they are born, the elders decide what type of sport the newborn child will practice, taking into account the child's constitution. If he has short legs, he will wrestle, and if they are long, he will be a runner.
There are now only a few families of Kerek, as most have been absorbed by their close relatives, the Chukchi. The Kerek settled in a narrow strip along the coast of the Bering Sea, from Anadyr to the north of Kamchatka, near the bird colonies they feed on. The Kerek were considered to be very brave and extraordinarily skilled at sailing and rock climbing. They set nets between the rocks near the bird colonies, capturing large numbers. They also hunted seal and fished on the high seas. They lived in earthen huts, similar to those of the Inuit, and wore skins. They were continually fighting with the Chukchi, who were regularly recruited as shepherds by some of the strongest Kerek.
The Inuit of Siberia are probably descendants of populations originally from the north of North America who returned to Asia across the Bering Strait, the opposite of what their ancestors had done thousands of years before. The Inuit are not considered to be an Asiatic aboriginal people but an American aboriginal people. There are also many archaeological similarities between the cultures of the eastern tip of Siberia and the Inuit cultures of Alaska, indicating a cultural relationship, if not a genetic one. Nowadays there are only a bit more than a thousand Inuit in the Russian Federation (1,500 in 1994), and they speak different dialects of Yuk (which some authors consider to be distinct languages), as do the Inuit in Alaska. They live near the Bering Strait and hunt whales.
There is also a small group of a few hundred Aleutians, few of whom speak their original language, who live on Wrangel Island and on Kommandorski Island.
1.5 The humans of the American and Greenland tundra
Of all the peoples living in the Americas, the true tundra people are the Eskimo or Inuit, who live in the northernmost tips of North America, Greenland, and the Chukchi Peninsula, in Siberia, together with the Aleutians, who live in Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and Kommandorski Island. The Inuit and Aleutian peoples are clearly descendants of Mongoloid populations of eastern Siberia (Chukchi, Yukaghir, Koryak), with whom they share close morphological affinities.
The languages of the Inuit and Aleutians form an independent family, the Eskimo-Aleut family. Recent sound linguistic studies have related these apparently isolated languages with the Uralic linguistic family, from which they separated in the distant past. The Eskimo-Aleut family includes 10 languages, spoken by about 85,000 people. About 700 people now speak the Aleut language in the Aleutian Islands and about a dozen in the islands under Russian sovereignty in the Bering Sea (see page 81).
The Inuit peoples
The Inuit (or Eskimo) are the most numerous ethnic group (90,000 people) in the Arctic. Half of them live in the United States (Alaska) and Canada, and the other half live in Greenland (although a few more live at the far northeastern tip of the Russian Federation). The word "Eskimo" reached Europe in the early 17th century in the story of the travels (1961) of the French Jesuit Paul Biard, who had learnt it from the Vabinak indians, who called their Inuit neighbors Eskimo. The word means "eaters of raw flesh," and in fact, the Inuit consider the term to be insulting, and prefer to be called what they call themselves, Inuit, which means "people."
The Inuit are not very tall (about 5 ft [157 cm] average height, similar to all the other tundra populations), but they tend to be broader and have straight black hair and slanting eyes. The Greenland populations differ most from the others, although they have maintained the rounded shape and the epicanthic fold, as for the last 1,000 years they have interbred with populations of European origin. Their neighbors consider them very frivolous, as a result of their incorrigible sense of humor. They are always ready to laugh, even at things others would consider tragic.
It is not possible to apply the classic division of European prehistory into the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age to the Inuit. Other peoples showing a succession of cultures linked in a logical order showing a change from one stage to the next, but the Inuit followed a quite different pattern. It is as if the Inuit had suddenly appeared in the Arctic latitudes with an extraordinarily developed culture, at a surprisingly high aesthetic and technological level. Some ethnographers have speculated that there was an "Eskimo cradle," according to which the Inuit population and their culture arose somewhere further to the south along Asia's Pacific coastline and then arrived in the Arctic with a culture developed over centuries and with a thorough knowledge of sailing and techniques to catch marine mammals.
The civilization of the Inuit was based essentially on the use of bone and ivory, although their culture is called a bone culture. They knew how to make stone tools (slivers of flint and obsidian, and various types of cutting tool) and use them, but their favorite and most useful material was bone or ivory, which they used to make tools and small works of art. As they were expert hunters, they never lacked these materials, especially walrus tusks, their preferred raw material. The small amount of wood borne downriver to the Arctic coastline provided the other materials that their technology required. No iron objects have been found in Inuit archeological sites, except fragments of native iron from meteorites, found set in burins and other bone or ivory tools.
In Greenland, the oldest archeological remains of human settlement, known as the independence culture, are only 5,000 years old. They are the remains of the campsites of hunters of seals and musk-ox, who used flint weapons and tools and built shelters with a central fireplace, made of stone and covered with skins. Later, groups of reindeer hunters arrived on the Arctic coast of Greenland, bearing the sarqaq culture (from the name of a place in western Greenland). They had bows and arrows but did not work flint, and made their tools out of sheets of slate that could be easily chipped off. They sheltered in portable tents, made of skin, similar to those of Siberian hunters and those of the Native Americans of the American prairies to the south. They had large domesticated dogs that were of use in the hunt and in transport.
About 3,000 years ago, the Dorset culture began to spread, the first based mainly on the exploitation of marine animals. Those who created and spread it traveled in sledges with runners made of mammoth tusks and used weapons like the lance and the harpoon. They also made use of an invention of great importance in the climate in which they lived, the oil lamp, a source of heat as well as light. The fuel was obtained, like their food, from the marine mammals they hunted. Despite the relative cultural similarity between the two groups, the humans of the Dorset culture do not seem to have been the ancestors of the Inuit, and all trace of them is lost around 2,600 years ago. They probably suffered the same fate as the "people of the land," who according to Inuit tradition were exterminated by the "sea people," that is to say, the ancestors of the modern Inuit. The Inuit, however, did not stay in Greenland for long, and it appears that about 2,000 years ago Greenland was totally uninhabited.
The Inuit are the classic hunters of the frozen waters. They normally hunt seal, although they also hunt whales and rear dogs as draft animals. Their food is based on hunting and fishing products, and they never eat vegetables. Thus, their main subsistence foodstuffs are taken at a higher trophic level (further removed from the primary producers in the food web) than those populations whose diets are entirely or mainly vegetarian, or those who consume herbivorous animals. The low energetic yield of this behavior is compensated by the Inuit's low population density, which avoids overhunting or overfishing that might seriously affect the Arctic food webs. The high productivity of the Arctic's waters means they can easily withstand the pressure the Inuit exert.
This type of diet, together with their clothing and dwellings, allows the Inuit to create a microclimate around them that is just as hospitable as the earth's tropical regions. The Inuit's traditional clothing protects them so well from the cold that they may have problems in dissipating the body heat they generate when performing sustained exercise that involves sweating. Their dwellings also allow them to maintain very high temperatures, even in their igloos, the hemispherical ice huts they build (or built) in hunting areas. Animal skins are hung on the walls within the igloo to form a chamber of cold air, which prevents excessive melting of the ice and ensures that the air in the room stays warm. The fires of animal fat used to heat, cook, and light the igloo maintain a temperature that rarely goes below 68[degrees]F (20[degrees]C). In both Canada and Alaska, there are now very few Inuit who preserve their traditional ways of life. Instead of hunting seal, most now are construction workers, miners, sailors, or work at American and Canadian military bases.
The Aleut peoples
The Aleutian Islands are thought to have been occupied about 3,000-4,000 years ago, when the differentiation occurred between the Inuit peoples and the Aleuts. The occupation took place from one of the central islands and then spread to the east and to the west. The archaeological remains of the oldest populations on either side of the Bering strait show facial bone structure, hair distribution and texture, and dental roots and crowns that correspond to those of the Aleutians.
When Russian fur trappers reached the Aleutian Islands they displaced all the inhabitants to the islands of Atka and Attu. In 1942, all the indigenous peoples of the Aleutian islands were moved. Those who lived on the island of Attu were taken prisoners by the Japanese and taken to Hokkaido (Japan), and those who lived in the islands nearest to North America were taken to the mainland by the United States Army. There are now only about 2,000 Aleuts, very few of whom live on Wrangel Island and Komandorski Island. (Wrangel Island is in the Arctic Ocean near the Bering Strait, and Komandorski Island is in the Bering Sea, and both form part of the Russian Federation.) Most live on the Aleutian Islands, part of the American state of Alaska and on the nearby mainland.
The Aleuts lived by hunting marine and terrestrial mammals, such as the musk-ox (Ovibos moschatus) and the wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), known in North America as caribou). They have always been considered excellent sailors, seal hunters, fishers, and collectors. The Aleuts built very good ships and dared to sail on the very cold waters around their islands and to hunt all sorts of marine animals, even cetaceans, for which they developed complex techniques.
1.6 Health and illness in the tundra
Human health in the Arctic is more influenced by the climate than by population density; that is to say, there are more problems related to low temperatures and limited sunlight than to contagious diseases.
Hypothermia and freezing
It is not surprising that some of the illnesses most characteristic of the tundra peoples (and also of temporary visitors) are related to acute or chronic effects of cold, when the body's heat-generating mechanisms are insufficient. When dealing with the harsh tundra climate, human beings (who after all originated in the tropics) are mainly affected by the low temperatures.
Sudden changes in temperature, at any latitude, provoke a series of mechanisms in the body to counteract the change and thus maintain the internal temperature constant. Thus, when the ambient temperature descends sharply, it may cause a parallel decrease in the body temperature of any homeothermic (warm-blooded) organism exposed to the change. This brings unconscious heat-generating mechanisms into operation in order to maintain a steady body temperature. In the first place, there is constriction of the peripheral blood vessels (with the consequent reduction of peripheral blood supply) to avoid heat loss as far as possible. Then shivering occurs, to avoid freezing, and then cellular heat- producing mechanisms come into operation. Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is stimulated by norepinephrine (NE) to produce a great deal of heat by the oxidation of fats. BAT occurs only in mammals and is located close to the blood vessels around the neck and the thoracic region so that it can supply heat rapidly to the brain and the heart. This tissue has many blood vessels and high levels of myoglobin, cytochromes, and the flavin compounds that give it its characteristic color.
All the people living in the tundra protect themselves with a great deal of clothing to create a warm microclimate around their body, but they may sometimes be exposed to very severe cold and suffer freezing. Lesions of this type may also occur when the body's heat-producing mechanisms fail to maintain body temperature. Damage caused by the cold may be local, maybe more or less widespread, and may also give rise to severe generalized hypothermia: the general syndrome of frostbite. Cold lesions can be divided into three levels of severity. First-degree frostbite results in a pallid skin with vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels) and insensitivity to pain, followed by vasodilation with pins and needles. Second-degree frostbite is accompanied by local or generalized edema, which is a condition of abnormally large fluid volume in the circulatory system or in tissues betweeen the body's cell's. Third-degree frostbite leads to the appearance of gangrene as a result of persistent vascular paralysis and lack of blood flow. Recovery from first- degree frostbite is easy, but gangrene requires surgical treatment. The general frostbite syndrome affects the entire body; the individual is listless, drowsy, and shows bradycardia (abnormally slow heartbeat) and torpor. If the sufferer is not rapidly treated, death may occur.
Vitamin deficiency due to lack of sunshine
Another type of illness associated with the geography of the most northerly areas is vitamin D deficiency. This is because the low levels of sunshine are insufficient for the complete synthesis of cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3). Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is needed for the synthesis of vitamin D, and in tropical latitudes the excess UV radiation is compensated for by skin pigmentation, but in Arctic latitudes one would rather expect a lack of pigmentation. This lack of pigmentation is very complete in many populations (for example, in the Samoyed, the least pigmented people on the planet) but not in all. The Inuit, for example, have highly pigmented skin, but they have a diet rich in fish and thus run less risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Many cases of hysterical crisis were described among the Inuit that, in a racist interpretation, were associated with many types of inappropriate behavior characteristic of this people. Later revision, without the racist prejudices, associated these attacks with vitamin D deficiency. In a similar case, at the end of the last century, the women workers at a factory in Vienna suffered repeated attacks of nervous excitement that were first diagnosed as hysterical crises "typical of women." It was later discovered that the crises were because of vitamin D deficiency due to the women's very limited exposure to sunlight, as they entered the factory before dawn and left after dusk.
Infectious diseases are not common in the tundra for two reasons: First, the low population density does not allow the spread of the illnesses typical of overcrowding, and second, parasites survive badly in very cold places. Even so, there are mosquitoes (not vectors of any specific disease), and other arthropod vectors (lice, ticks, and fleas) that may transmit exanthematic (referring to a measles-like skin eruption) typhus and bubonic plague. Other types of infectious illnesses are transmitted not by parasites but through the air, such as respiratory infections.
The Arctic populations show a high incidence of air-transmitted respiratory illnesses that affect the upper and the lower respiratory tracts. The cold and the dryness of the air outside, the cramped quarters inside their dwellings, and their facial physiognomy (specifically, a very small nose), encourage these nasal and respiratory illnesses, which are less frequent in other peoples with a comparable nasal morphology living in warmer areas. It should be borne in mind that the snub nose of many tundra populations is a consequence of their history (populations largely of Asian origin, who migrated into the tundra space relatively recently) and not natural selection. The short time since most of the current Arctic populations settled in cold areas has not allowed natural selection to act. This is why the flat noses of the Inuit people are considered an anomaly (in relation to the climate they live in now).
Contacts with populations from more southerly populations led to the appearance of previously unknown illnesses, such as smallpox, German measles, tuberculosis, and pneumonia. When Russian hunters arrived on the Aleutian islands, the native population of the Aleutian Islands declined from 16,000 to 2,500 in less than 50 years. In Kamchatka, between two thirds and three quarters of the inhabitants died in an epidemic of smallpox in 1768-1769. When the Alaska Highway was built around 1943, the new illnesses that reached the area included measles, German measles, some forms of dysentery, mumps, whooping cough, tonsillitis, and meningococcal meningitis, which was until then limited to more southerly areas. In 1951, a measles epidemic affected 99% of the Inuit population of Greenland and of some regions of northern Quebec (where it also attacked almost the entire Native American population on the coast of Ungava Bay). Mortality in some districts reached 7% in spite of the effective application of modern health care measures. Recently illnesses that originated far from the tundra, such as hepatitis B and AIDS, have also appeared among its inhabitants (see vol. 2, page 192).
2. The use of plant and fungal resources
2.1 Gleaning instead of agriculture
There is no agriculture in the tundra. All the plant resources are collected from wild plants. There is also a very strict rule: Those who eat reindeer meat do not eat green vegetables, while those who eat marine animals consume many foods of plant origin.
The scarce gleanings from wild plants
Reindeer raisers and hunters of wild specimens know very well what type of plant the reindeer eats, but they make use of the plants in ways other than eating them. For example, they use sphagnum moss (Sphagnum) to line the base of cradles, the bark of the alder (Alnus crispa and others) to tan leather, and the leaves and buds of bruniska (the red cowberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. pumilum) to make tea. They use swamp sedges to line their shoes every day, and the sedges are stored by many tundra dwellers for use during the long winter.
On the coast, things are different. The Chukchi, the Inuit and the Koryak have a much more varied plant diet. The peoples who hunt seals and whales consider it necessary to lay in 441 lb (200 kg) of green food per head for the winter. The Chukchi and Alaskan Inuit store plants in special sacks made with an entire sealskin. The Chukchi use seven species of roots, rhizomes, and tubers and up to a dozen different herbaceous plants, which they eat in different combinations. Gorets (Polygonum ellipticum) are preferred over other plants with edible underground storage organs. Other foodstuffs include the small fruits of the tundra: brisniki, the red berries of Vaccinium vitis-idaea; golubiki, the black berries of V. uliginosum; and the fruits of the cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus, eaten alone or mixed with fat. The inhabitants of the Bering Sea also usually consume kelp (Laminaria) and other seaweeds that storms deposit on the beaches, including Amogenia peploides, Nowosiewersia glacialis, and Clantonia acutifolia.
The star of these plants is without a doubt roseroot (Rhodiola atropurpurea), a sort of ginseng known as Chukchi cabbage, which was for a long time their preferred plant foodstuff, together with the leaves of dwarf willows (Salix arctica, S. pulchra, S. chamissonis, etc.). Chukchi cabbage produces leaves and leaf buds that are harvested when they are most fleshy. All the families living along the coastline have a vegetable plot in which they grow Chukchi cabbage and in which there are many mice nests. The women take a little yukola (dry fish) to the mice nests and take out small quantity of roots and leave the fish. They do this because they believe that if they do not, the mice will take offense and leave the plot.
The preparation of wild greens
One of the most common dishes in this area is a sort of mixture of Chukchi cabbage with a small quantity of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) and other bitter plants, such as mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna), Arctic sorrel (Rumex arcticus), and Nelson's saxifrage (Saxifraga nelsoniana), to which seal fat and caviar is added, and the mixture is then left to ferment. Another important dish is zeleneia kaixa, or green flakes, made with willow leaves, and zmeevik (the undigested contents of the reindeer's stomach), blood, and seal fat. Greens for winter consumption are prepared the same way along the entire Arctic coastline. Leather sacks are filled up and stored, and then they wait until the juice began to ooze out; when this happens, the greens are considered to be ripe and ready to be eaten.
2.2 The use of lichens and fungi
Lichens and fungi play an important part within the modest, but decisive, role that plants play in human life in the tundra. Directly or indirectly, as food or in cultural terms, the people are totally dependent on them.
Grazing on lichens
The reindeer is the only ruminant that regularly eats lichens and that can last for long periods without any other food, especially in winter, when lichens form the basis of the reindeer's diet. They show a preference for the genus Cladonia, the reason why it is known as reindeer moss (C. rangiformis, C. alpestris), and they are also the most widespread species in the tundra. Other lichens, such as the genera Cetraria and Stereocaulon), are less edible but they are also eaten by reindeer. In the summer, the herds migrate north, allowing more diverse feeding, mainly herbaceous plants, such as legumes, grasses, sedges, and rushes, but they do not ignore the leaves of shrubs and small trees, some fungi, and even eat some small animals, such as nestlings or young lemmings.
Edible mushrooms are quite abundant in the tundra, but local people do not usually eat them. Only one mushroom is consumed more or less regularly, the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), not as a foodstuff but for its hallucinogenic properties. This mushroom, which has a very distinctive taste, has long been highly appreciated by the aborigines of the eastern Eurasian tundra.
In the Chukchi Peninsula there are cave paintings of people under the influence of fly agaric. These effects have long been known and appreciated by other peoples, too. It seems that the Indo-Europeans included this mushroom as one of the ingredients of soma, the drink of immortality, and the British blamed it for the violent ferocity of the Viking "berserker" warriors. The Komi, neighbors of the Khants and Mansi (Voguls) at the base of the Urals, and the inhabitants of Transbaikal knew fly agaric and used it as a narcotic. Furthermore, according to Khanti legend, heroes consumed it to know the future and give them strength for battle. In the 19th century fly agaric was widely used by Samoyeds, Nganasan, Enets, and Nenets.
The Chukchi still maintain some traditions about their relationship with this mushroom. When they find it in the tundra, they cannot turn back. Custom dictates that they ask the mushroom not to be angry with the human beings, and that they invite it to visit their yarangas. The customs are very strict: the mushroom must be uprooted carefully and placed in a sacred place, on top of a skin canopy, under which the family gathers, formerly in the company of figures of their sacred idols. They eat the mushroom because they believe the hallucinations produced allow them to go temporarily to the Land of the Dead, or the Upper World, where their ancestors and the Lords of the Universe live. Depending on what the dead request of them, reindeer will be sacrificed or the necessary rituals will be performed. The normal dose is five dry mushrooms well cleaned with water. Traditions assert that each mushroom has its own character, some being playful and others malign. It is also important to know who is returning to this world; the Chukchi believe in the transmigration of the souls of the dead to the newborn. If a newborn child does not receive his or her previous name, he or she will never be happy, and the mushroom helps to find the name of the soul that has returned to this world. People who have taken fly agaric are considered to be comparable with a shaman in some ways, suggesting that the shamans took it to contact the spirits. On the contrary, Amanita muscaria allowed the Chukchi who were not shamans to communicate with the other world.
3. The use of animal resources
3.1 Hunting activity
Hunting for fur or feathers on dry land is a relatively marginal activity for people in the tundra, except for the peoples that have not domesticated the reindeer. Yet the search for furs was one of the first factors that promoted the colonization of the Great North, in both Russia and Canada, although most trapping was in the taiga, not in the tundra. Even so, the Evenki regularly catch Arctic fox, in both fixed and mobile traps, and supply most of the furs reaching the Russian and international markets. The north of Yakuty, where the Evenki live, is where the Arctic fox is most abundant.
Hunting of animals for their fur
Animals with fur are not uncommon in the tundra, but curiously they have not been of great interest to the people living there, for whom the most important hide is that of the reindeer, in all its many forms. For some uses, such as the hems of clothing, they use dog skin.
Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) were first hunted in the 16th century, when sable (Martes zibellina) became scarce in the Siberian taiga. Russian hunters spread through the tundra and in many places interbred with the local populations, whose clothing they adopted as well as some of their hunting and fishing techniques, which they improved and taught to other even more isolated tundra peoples. Past is the most widespread method of catching the Arctic fox (in Russian, past is the word for the jaws or throat of an animal). The Russian hunters set a row of pastei in the sites where there are most burrows, near the banks of the rivers. The trap is prepared with a sort of palisade on which a thick trunk hangs, owing to a wooden mechanism called a simka. This stays above the trap until the animal unwittingly pushes a fine thread that releases the mechanism. The trunk falls and catches the fox. The palisade is to prevent wolverines (Gulo gulo) from spoiling the catch. The simka like the past spread throughout northern Siberia (for example, among the Dolgan and the Nganasan) and to North America, where contemporary hunters of Arctic fox think these traps are a Native American invention.
Reindeer are now mainly domesticated animals, but there are still tundra peoples who exploit wild herds of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). On the Taymyr Peninsula more than half a million wild reindeer follow the natural migrations of the tundra fauna and move to the Arctic coast in summer and return to the taiga in winter. The Nganasan wait for them at the fords, as they have done for centuries. They usually hunted them from small wooden boats, camouflaged so they could approach close enough to throw lances and javelins. They now hunt them from launches, using rifles to shoot the animals from the water. They also use other techniques, such as pursuing the reindeer or lying in wait for them, which requires the use of trained dogs. Another technique used by Nganasan hunters is to approach the wild reindeer with the help of a specially trained reindeer that acts as a bait. The increasing abundance of wild reindeer in eastern Taymyr has caused problems for the Dolgan in the region, because some domesticated animals may hear the call of the wild. This has led to a decline in reindeer breeding in comparison with half a century ago.
Hunting of animals for feathers
In the Arctic peoples is it unusual to use feathers as decorations for clothing, but using bird skins to line items of clothing is not unusual. The Aleut, for example, used them to make the outer clothing, and some populations in the north of Siberia still use the skin of the white-bolled diver (Gavia adamsii) as a waterproof lining for boats. Increasing demand for eiderdown, the down of the eider duck (Somateria mollissima), to stuff quilts (eiderdowns) has led to development of down collection in the northernmost regions of Scandinavia and Alaska, outside the traditional production areas. Other birds, such as the so-called tundra partridges (Lagopus lagopus, the willow grouse and L. mutus, the ptarmigan), and many water birds are hunted for their high-quality flesh.
In any case, it must be recognized that the populations of some species of birds are in need of protection, as they have declined greatly, whether due to hunting or habitat modification. The most endangered species, in danger of extinction are the gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) and the red-breasted goose (Branta [=Rufibrenta] ruficollis). Other endangered species include the Eskimo curlew (Numenius borealis), the Hudsonian godwit (Limosa haemastica), the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), Bewick's swan (Cygnus columbianus [=C. bewickii]), Ross's gull (Rhodostheia rosea), and the shoveler plover (Eurynorhynchus pygmaeus).
The hunting of marine mammals
The hunting of marine mammals on the Arctic coasts and the adjacent seas bathing the coast of the tundra are of basic importance only to the inhabitants of the northeast tip of the Eurasian landmass, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. On a smaller scale, as a secondary activity, pinnipeds (sealion, walrus, seal) are also caught on the shores of the White Sea and around the Kanin Peninsula. The hunting of marine animals is the basic activity of the coastal Chukchi, the Inuit, and the Aleuts. Further south, other hunters include the Koryak, the peoples of the Amur estuary, and some peoples in northern Canada.
Subsistence hunting of walrus and seal
Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) are hunted in the large shoreline colonies where these animals congregate in summer. The Chukchi and the Inuit sought to locate their coastal settlements near a walrus colony, generally on an island near the coast. The techniques to hunt from the water have not changed since hunters set off for the first time in their kayaks to hunt these marine giants. Walruses were hunted, and still are, with harpoons, although they now use outboard launches as well as kayaks. First, the hunters wound the walrus with a shot, and then they approach it and spear it with a harpoon with a float. Generally, the hunters begin to hunt another individual before the first has died. The harpooned walrus is easily visible and after a short time is exhausted and dies. When the necessary number of walrus have been caught or none are left because the colony has fled, the hunters tie them to the launch and tow them to dry land.
Once on dry land, the captured walrus are dismembered according to a very precise pattern. The flesh is cut into strips with the skin and is rolled into bundles of 132-154 lb (60-70 kg), which are sewn together with fine threads of walrus skin and stored in a hole. There the meat turns slightly rancid and becomes kopalkhen, the hunters' main winter food. Rancid walrus flesh has to be eaten with specially prepared winter greens. The Chukchi also eat it as if it were bread, with fish or fish eggs.
Seals are also actively hunted. Several species, such as the ringed seal (Phoca hispida), and the ribbon seal (P. fasciata), are widely caught. In winter they are caught with nets that hunters set near the breathing holes made in the Arctic ice once it has hardened enough. The nets are made with strips of the hide of the bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus), an animal that is hunted for its exceptionally resistant skin rather than for its flesh. In summer, the hunters wait for the seals when they leave the water to bask in the sun. At this time of year, polar bears (Ursus maritimus) also attack the seals in a similar way, which may lead to undesirable encounters. Both humans and polar bears approach from the leeward side and try to cut off the seals' escape route to the sea.
The Chukchi and Inuit's custom is to hunt no more walrus than strictly necessary. In the traditions of both peoples there are norms that protect the growth and the regulation of the populations. Thus, for example, they never hunt in the breeding period, and they never catch females with young. The site occupied by the walrus colony is held sacred, and it is cleared of dead animals several times a year, because if this is not done, the walrus will not return after their annual migration. The bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) is treated with the same respect as the walrus, although its skin is more appreciated than its flesh. The heads of seals and walrus are accumulated in special sacred places, and once a year a festival is held in their honor. Walrus have long been highly valued, and the bones are used to make hunting and even fighting weapons. Bones that had been buried or had been in the sea for a while were especially appreciated, as they turned an absolutely fantastic color. The Russians exported them to Europe as "patinated fish teeth."
The commercial hunting of seal skins
Some seal species with high-quality skins that were highly valued in Europe started to suffer from overhunting in the 18th century, especially the harp seal (Phoca groenlandica), which also occurs in the White Sea and in Newfoundland, and the northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus). Measures to control hunting and, in the case of the harp seal, a ban on trade in its skins, have allowed their populations to stabilize in the last few years.
When the first Russian explorer reached Komandorskie Island and Pribilof Island in the 18th century, there were about 1.5-2 million northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) on Komandorskie and 2-2.5 million on Pribilof. Even at the end of Russian rule over Alaska, a decline had been observed in populations, and between 1835 and 1867 the number of captures on Pribilof Island was limited, but this limitation was not maintained during the first years after the territory's acquisition by the United States. Between 1911 and 1940, the states in whose waters this seal bred limited catches and the populations recovered. In 1941, Japan unilaterally denounced the treaty, which until then had been considered an excellent model of an international convention for the protection of an animal species of economic interest. A new treaty to regulate catches was not signed until 1957, and it is still in force. Now, controlled hunting of fine-skinned seals is carried out on these islands, and their colonies have almost become a sort of breeding farm, as they are visited regularly by specialists who decide how many animals can be slaughtered and the techniques to be used.
Hunting of cetaceans
Often whales and other cetaceans are stranded on beaches after a storm or the movement of large masses of ice. These presents from the sea are a very large input into the hunter economy, as is the capture of these animals in favorable season. Whaling has changed, however, greatly, and now only a very small number can be caught. Whales are caught using more or less the same technique as for walruses: they are harpooned and tethered with a float and die of exhaustion after a chase many hours long. Another common prey of Arctic hunters is the beluga (Delphinapterus leucas).
3.2 Fishing activity
The Yukaghir call fish "second meat." Fish is an important part of the diet of all the tundra peoples, whether they are nomads following reindeer or they live in more or less permanent settlements on the coastline. This Yukaghir expression reflects the general attitude of the people of the tundra to fish: It is a secondary food. Their first and main food is animal flesh.
Almost all the populations in northern Eurasia are freshwater species, such as salmon (Salmo), greyling (Thymallus), and sturgeon (Acipenser). The fish of the tundra smell of fresh grass, which makes it easier to eat them raw. They are normally consumed raw and cut into thin strips. Yukola is also eaten: This is fried fish eaten by both humans and their dogs.
In the tundra, almost everybody fishes. Relatively small nets are set in summer in the lakes or in the countless rivers that form at this time of year; in winter they are set under the ice and dragged from one hole to another. Another widespread fishing technique is the use of traps called zapor, and in almost every riverside village (and most villages are on rivers) the inhabitants join together to build one. A zapor consists basically of a palisade from one side of the river to the other, built with a series of poles fixed at the base and joined by a mesh of very flexible branches or by a barricade made of pieces of wickerwork bound together. The zapor has a few holes to let the fish pass, each one with a wicker trap like a fyke or bag net. This is how the Chukchi catch the fish that go up the river at the beginning of the melt. In Arctic Europe, this technique is also widely used to catch salmon. This method came into use in the estuaries of large Russian rivers in the 1960s on an industrial scale, with easily imaginable catastrophic results for some species that were exploited excessively, especially the sturgeon, until they were protected by the government.
On the coasts of Europe, as far as the White Sea, the main fish caught is the Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). Further east, the two main catches are also gadids, the saika, or Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida), and the navaga (Eleginus navada). In the Bering Sea, the most important catch is the North Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus). In Kanin, in the Barents Sea, the navaga is caught with special wicker nets called riujas that consist of a net closed by several rings. The riuja is like a gigantic osier fishing net and is placed below the ice by making two holes in the ice, and it is then dragged to the surface with the aid of horses. A second method of catching the navaga is to use an uda, a long line with a hook. The navaga bites as soon as the uda enters the water. This technique is also used in the fisheries in the northeast tip of the continent. The greater part of the continent's fish catch is caught by this method.
3.3 Stockraising activities
The reindeer, or caribou (Rangifer tarandus), provides flesh, milk, antlers, bones, and even traction power. This is why there are about three million head of domesticated reindeer, in addition to about the same number of wild ones. Wild and domesticated reindeer differ in distribution within the tundra. In Eurasia, the number of domesticated reindeer is far greater than the number of wild ones, but the situation is reversed in North America. The reindeer can be said to be, together with the dog, the only tundra animal that was effectively domesticated by human beings until recently, when developments have included captive rearing of animals for fur. More recently, since 1976 there have been successful attempts to domesticate the musk-ox (Ovibos moschatus) in Alaska, from where it has spread to Canada and Norway. There are about three million domesticated reindeer, and about 90% graze on the tundra in the Russian Federation, mainly in the Chukchi Peninsula, Yakutia, and the Yamal Peninsula.
Most of the tundra peoples started out hunting reindeer, later domesticating the animal at different periods of time. The Chukchi, for example, have had herds of domesticated reindeer for 200 years, although the Chukchi reindeer is probably one of oldest inhabitants of the Arctic lands, perhaps as ancient as the mammoth. The Chukchi call this reindeer "meat on feet:" it is a very small, dark reindeer that is not a very good runner. It is resistant to harsh conditions and increases rapidly in weight, although it also rapidly loses what it has gained. This breed is recognized by many stockraisers as one of the best.
The thousand uses of reindeer hide
Humans have managed to survive in the tundra thanks to reindeer leather. The different peoples that live in the tundra use only three main types of dwelling, but they all use clothing as their main shelter, for their tents and many other items, and these are always made using reindeer hides.
The characteristics of the reindeer's skin vary depending on the animal's sex and age, each with its preferred use. The skin of an unborn calf is the thinnest, but the first skin of the young animals, when the protective hair has not grown, is very smooth and fine to the touch. The Chukchi use them to make blankets, and other peoples use them to make caps. The skin of reindeer that have not yet changed their summer fur is used to make light clothing for spring and summer. Winter clothing is made from the hides of males in their winter coat, the thickest. Leather trousers and underwear are made with the hide of the female reindeer in the appropriate season. Kamus, the skin of the reindeer's feet, is widely used to make footwear. Almost all the tundra peoples use similar techniques to treat the hides. First, the hide is scraped to remove the flesh on the inner side (mezdra), then it is softened and tanned with urine or reindeer liver, and it is dyed with an aqueous extract of alder bark. This is why clothing made with reindeer hide is always the same dark red color, regardless of the animal's color, which varies from variety to variety. Scraped and tanned reindeer hide is also used to make tambourines for shamans. The hide is smoked for use in making tents. Not even the sea fishing peoples can live without reindeer leather. The Greenland Inuit, for example, did not use European fabrics until raw materials derived from reindeer became scarce.
The unusual structure of reindeer hair is responsible for the leather's characteristics. While the animal is alive, its hairs are in the form of tubes closed at the end. When the hide is tanned, the chitin at the end of the capillaries breaks and the tanned skin turns into a sort of drainage system. Primitive tanning techniques using urine or reindeer liver, unlike industrial tanning techniques, do not plug the capillaries. When someone places a piece of reindeer skin directly on the naked skin, it never get wets however much they sweat. The outside of the clothing is moist with the humidity emitted and may even freeze, but the inside remains warm and dry. The capillaries of the reindeer fur thus drain humidity and avoid the cold, even when sitting directly on ice.
Reindeer and their herders
The Chukchi, unlike the other stockraiser peoples of the tundra, do not ride reindeer or use them to drag their sledges (except in races to decide who gets "the luck of the reindeer"); they watch their herds on foot and move in sledges drawn by dogs. Stockraising on foot as practiced by the Chukchi, is only common in the northeast of the Kolyma River. "The luck of the reindeer" is a Chukchi expression for a state of grace when the spirits smile on the favored one and on those who live with him and help him to raise reindeer. When the "reindeer luck" abandons somebody, that is to say, things go badly for him and the people around him, he must put a price on all his head of reindeer and gamble them at the next reindeer race. In accordance with Chukchi tradition, if his reindeer win, the "luck" returns to the person it had abandoned. If they lose, however, they have to hand over all their reindeer to the person favored by the spirits.
The Samoyed and Yakut shepherds watch their livestock mounted on reindeer or in sledges. The Nenets, for example, travel all year round in sledges drawn by reindeer, in summer over the flat moss cover of the tundra and in winter through the taiga or wooded tundra, always helped by their huskies. According to Nenet custom, the person in charge of the reindeer, the kayur, must always be on the left of the sledge. Only one of the reindeer is trained to obey the herder's orders; the others only supply the additional force by pulling the harness as they follow it.
The Enets are other reindeer hunters that, like the Nenets, have recently adopted stockraising and raise reindeer in the same way as them, but a century ago they lived mainly by hunting the wild reindeer that traveled from the forest to the eastern region of the Gydanskiy Peninsula or even farther east.
The Samer way of rearing reindeer is different from the other techniques practiced in northern Eurasia, although they too were fishers and hunters until the 17th century. The Samer used to let the reindeer graze all summer in special enclosed fields; when autumn arrived, the herders brought the livestock together and traveled from one place to another throughout the winter. On their route, they hunted wild reindeer, elk (Alces alces), and other fur-bearing animals: squirrels (Pteromys volans, Eutamias sibiricus), foxes (Vulpes vulpes), and Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). In the summer, they also fished and trapped birds. One of the Samer 's genuinely original contributions is the single-person sledge (kerezhka), which looks like a small boat with a very wide base; the Samer harnessed a single reindeer, which other reindeer rearers had never done. They were also famous as skiers and archers. They are now the only people in Scandinavia who raise reindeer, and this has now made them an important tourist attraction. Reindeer are still an essential resource for them, as they provide flesh and hides. In Russia, the Samer graze their livestock together with the Nenets and the Komi.
3.4 The case of the Arctic dogs
It is impossible to imagine the Arctic without dogs. Most people think of them only in their role in polar exploration: however, it was dogs, rather than humans, that conquered the poles. Samoyed dogs brought from Russia reached the South Pole with Amundsen, and dogs of the same origin were probably the first to reach the North Pole. Yet these are not the only services dogs provide to humans. Without their help, the most northerly human populations could not have survived.
All the aboriginal populations of the north consider the dog a scared animal, the equivalent of a shaman. It is said that any man can see spirits in the ear of a dog if the dog helps him, and that a dog's hide must be used to repel evil spirits. The dog's blood, extracted by making a small notch in the ear, helps to cure deep cuts, and their licking helps wounds to heal. Dogs protect humans from hidden powers by not allowing spirits that only they can see to pass. Dogs are also sacrificed in homage to the forces of the light, powerful nature spirits.
Hunting is one of the activities in which Arctic dogs excel. Hunting wild reindeer, probably the oldest of all forms of hunting still practiced today, is still their specialty. Dogs everywhere pursue ungulates along the path the prey has taken. The dog's role is to harry it and make it run until it is exhausted, while the hunter only has to lie in wait. The case of the husky hunting dog in Taymyr is very different. Only the Nenets and the Nganasan have dogs of this breed: During the migrations of wild reindeer, or while the large herds are in their summer or winter grazing sites, the hunters of these two peoples selected an appropriate site and went there with the dog. They sought an open space where the hunter, wearing camouflaged clothing, hid while the dog chose a reindeer and started to chase it. Wild reindeer are guided above all by their smell, so that the wind must be in the hunter's favor: the husky knows this detail of reindeer behavior and always pursues from upwind.
The herder's tasks are no less complex. The domesticated reindeer of the Old World graze in immense areas, always under the control of dogs. These dogs have a short trunk supported by long and tireless legs, a curled tail, a pointed snout and large, very straight ears. Despite variability in coat color, all these herding dogs are known as Samoyeds, as they belong to very ancient breeds and always have the same form. They say the snout of the Samoyed dog was made for laughter. When one sees one of these small dogs climb a hill to stare at the livestock or run to intercept one of the animals that has separated and make it rejoin the herd, or when one see that it has understood at a glance which animals its master wishes to lasso, it is impossible not to treat the dog as an equal. Reindeer herding dogs are greatly appreciated by the Samoyed and Tungus peoples (and now also by some farms on the coast on the Chukchi Peninsula).
Reindeer breeders believe herding dogs inherit their skills from their parentage. Even more important, however, is that they acquire the instinct of looking after the livestock, which the young dogs learn from the older ones. In order for the puppies to learn the skill of leading the herd, they are left with the adults in the middle of the herd. By observing their parents, the young dogs soon learn the finer points of stockraising life.
What has made the tundra's dogs famous throughout the world is their role drawing sledges. Their role, sometimes debatable but often decisive, in the first polar expeditions has already been mentioned. Even now dogsleighs are the only reliable means of transport in difficult conditions in the polar regions. Sleigh races in Alaska are now internationally known, and the dogs that participate receive special treatment: They are regularly inspected by vets and are fed special food so they can drag their sleigh, and their owner, quickly and powerfully. The dogs are fed on dried or frozen fish, or, on the coastline, with the flesh of marine mammals. The most concentrated foods, however, are dried fish eggs.
The attitude of castrated sleigh dogs towards outsider dogs is extremely aggressive, and when they fight it is to the death, in particular, when two packs coincide somewhere on their path. So the kayurs or drivers, avoiding crossing with another sledge, except at great distance. Paradoxically, the females are very friendly with children. They attack any outsider that tries to approach their puppies but let children stroke their puppies and play with them. The chukchi even time the mating of their dogs so that the birth coincides with that of their children, so they can play together. The bitch occasionally acts as a wetnurse for a newborn baby when the mother does not have enough milk or is ill or dies after birth. For the Chukchi, those who never suckled dog's milk as a baby will never grow up to be big and strong, either in body or in spirit.
4. Management conflicts and environmental problems
4.1 Ancient but intense human settlement
The low human population density and the limitations imposed by climatic conditions on human activity in the tundra meant that, until the mid-20th century, the only damage to the tundra was local damage by hunters, fishers, and gold prospectors.
Under the pole star
In the second half of the 20th century, the transformation of the tundra system caused by new technologies, the discovery of new mineral and energetic resources, and global climate change have led to the tundra being the subject of dispute between those supporting more intensive exploitation of resources and those defending the need to conserve extensive areas of tundra. There are tensions between those who consider these sparsely populated areas as the ideal place to dump troublesome or dangerous waste and others who are trying to introduce sustainable management principles.
There is nothing new about tension between different human groups over the exploitation of tundra resources, especially between the permanent inhabitants and the advance guard of peoples from the south, who have traditionally considered the Arctic area as a frontier waiting to be colonized. Apart from the ancient settlers, who in many cases colonized previously untouched areas, within the last millennium the Inuit and Vikings arrived almost simultaneously in Greenland around the year 1000 A.D., around the time when the Slavs reached the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Both followed the route marked by the Pole Star, where most of the northern peoples of the Old World locate the keystone of the arch holding up the heavens. The mirage of this far northern frontier, guarded more by the intransigent climate than by the force of the few inhabitants scattered over a vast area, has been shared by all those who at different times have settled north of the Arctic Circle. The attraction of the Arctic for people from areas to the south was always, until the middle of the 20th century, as great as that since exerted by space travel.
The actions of the first large British companies
The French and British, in their struggle for North America, carried out the first surveys of the northern Canadian tundra. Systematic exploration did not start, however, until the creation of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. The companies stated aims were to find the Northwest Passage, to settle the areas around the Hudson Bay, and to develop in them all the forms of commerce that might be beneficial. Its main aim was in fact the fur trade and to obtain a monopoly in all the land around Hudson Bay, whose size and conditions were unknown but were expected to be rich in animals with fine fur. In practice, the company's interests were concentrated in the southern part of this area, and in exploring westwards. They did not, however, ignore exploration of the northern area, and repeatedly sent people to explore the coastline of the Arctic Ocean--Samuel Hearne (1745-1792), for example, who in 1791 on his search for a supposed copper mine crossed the Barren Lands from Churchill to the Coppermine River, which he named and apparently explored as far as its estuary. Hearne was the first person to describe the North American tundra, but the difficult conditions in the area meant plans for exploitation were abandoned.
After 1779, a new company, the Northwest Company of Montreal, obtained the concession for the area that is now Canada's Northwest Territories. There was intense competition between the two British companies, both in the boreal forest regions (which are richer in game) and in the Canadian tundra, until the new company was absorbed by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821. The Northwest Company was much more interested in the Arctic areas of its concession, and in 1788 it sent Alexander Mackenzie (1764-1820) and his cousin Roderick to establish an outpost for the fur trade on the shores of Lake Athabasca, Fort Chippewyan. The following year they set out from the fort on a journey of about 1,553 mi (2,500 km) to the shores of the Arctic Ocean along the waterway that joins the Great Slave Lake to the Arctic Ocean, that is, the Mackenzie River, which is named after him. Some years later (1793), leaving from the same fort, he set off westwards across the Rocky Mountains and reached the Pacific coastline at Dean Channel, a deep fjord on the coasts of British Columbia, thus completing the first crossing of the North American continent from coast to coast north of Mexico. The course of the Mackenzie thus became an entry route along which the two companies' trappers and commercial agents competed until 1821.
The struggle for whale oil
In the early 17th century, Danish explorers and sailors came back again to Greenland's coastline. By then, when memory of the former colonization had almost been forgotten, the most absurd legends circulated about the island. Very few boats ventured there, except for pirates and outlaws. Some of them tried to take some natives to Europe to interest their compatriots in exploiting the island's wealth, but most of the unfortunate Inuit that were captured preferred to throw themselves overboard and drown than remain in captivity. Those who reached Europe behaved like wild beasts and died of homesickness.
In the 17th century, however, while Europe was devastated by interminable wars, a commercial war was also going on over whale oil for lighting. It all began with the constitution of the Danish North Sea Company and the voyage that their ships made to the Davis Strait and the western coast of Greenland. The island was formally considered Danish territory. (Denmark and Norway formed a single state from the 16th century onwards, with its capital in Copenhagen.) The British, French, and Dutch took no notice of the Danes' presumed sovereignty and followed them. Despite the white bear representing Greenland on its coat of arms, Denmark lost the oil war. The island rapidly became a whalers' base, and for some years there were 10,000 of them. More than a thousand whales died every year in Greenland's waters, and an unknown number of people. The whales were hunted in fragile whaling skiffs, and the whalers had to put more faith in their God than in their equipment, but the profits to be gained were enormous and the costs very low.
Denmark could not beat its powerful enemies at sea, and the only remaining solution was to settle the island, to try to colonize it again. This thankless task was started in 1721 by the Lutheran pastor Hans Egede (1686-1758), together with his wife and children. As was to be expected, Christian principles did not make much impression on the Inuit, despite the efforts of Egede and his children, although the seeds they sowed did bear some fruit. They succumbed to northern tuberculosis, still today the scourge of Greenland's aborigines and the indigenous peoples of the Arctic, but they changed many of the customs that were contrary to civilized life and society. The Egede family did not have much success at trade either. The Danish company collapsed and shipped all its Danish dependents back except Egede, who was allowed to stay as a special favor. He continued struggling heroically to save the souls of the Inuit, in competition with the German Herrnhuters, a humble and nonviolent Protestant community of the Bohemian Brethren, who were also on the island for missionary purposes.
In the meantime, several European states were investigating ways of exploiting the island commercially. As long as the illusion that Greenland could produce profits lasted, missions and missionaries were funded, and companies were created for hunting and trading purposes. This illusion, however, gradually faded away as the companies did not make profits. Eventually, in 1775, the Danish government issued an edict ordering that the Inuit that some companies had brought together into stable populations had to return to their origins, while giving the government the monopoly on hunting and trading in Greenland. This edict set a minimum price for products bought from the Inuit and fixed a percentage of the trade's profits to be used to help the poor. It also banned foreigners from trading in alcohol, which was highly positive, as was the ban on the hunting of whales and other marine mammals, which was followed by a gradual increase in their populations. At the same time, mission expenses were cut to the bone, and trade began to show a profit. The Danish trading stations did not destroy the Inuit's traditional culture. There was no sign of any change in the situation until the climate began to improve gradually in the early 20th century.
From the Urals to the Pacific
From the time of the founding of Mangazeya onwards, the Russian hunters in the tundra adopted hunting and fishing as their way of life and developed techniques to catch the Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) while keeping the fur in prime condition. These methods have lasted almost unchanged until the present day and have spread throughout the lands above the Arctic Circle. Mangazeya's activity was, however, terminated in the 17th century, owing to the growing danger posed by the entry of foreigners into Russia's far north, and its population was moved to the east, to Taymyr and northern Yakuty.
In Russia, the entire 17th century was marked by the expansion to the east, towards the almost desert lands of the northern tundra and the more southerly forests and steppes. It was a heroic period, when the Russians crossed immense distances leaving small colonies everywhere they went. In 1607, Turukhansk fort was founded on the banks of the Yenisey. This was the parting point of large armies of explorers who went farther and farther east. By the 1630s the Russians had already reached the River Lena, the major Siberian river, and by the 1650s they had reached the River Amur and the Sea of Okhotsk. In 1663, they founded the city of Yakutsk on the banks of the Lena and the city of Anadyr on the Chukchi Peninsula at the end of the century. Vladimir Atlasov set out from Anadyr in 1697 to cross the Kamchatskiy mountain range and visit the volcanic Kamchatskiy Peninsula, where he incorporated the Koryak, the Itelmen, and the Ainu into the Russian empire. Throughout this heroic period, the detachments mainly moved in the summer and used the winter to construct villages and small boats to sail on the rivers and also among the icy waters of the ocean coasts.
The two-headed eagle in the New World
The Russians took a long time to hear about the discovery of America and were also the last Europeans to set foot there. The oldest recorded crossing, from Asia's easternmost cape, was by Semen Dejnev, a Cossack who in 1648 set sail with 60 hunters in his kochi with a larch hull and leather sails from the mouth of the Kolyma. He reached the mouth of the Anadyr; in other words, he sailed round the Chukchi Peninsula, discovering (unknowingly) the strait that separates Asia from Europe, and Asia's easternmost cape, which was later named after him. Yet Dejnev appears not to have been the first to sail unknowingly through the strait separating the Old World from the New World. Some ancient documents in Yakutsk's city archives contain indirect references to voyages to the lower Anadyr, such as the claim made by a trader from Zhigansk (a city in Yakuty, on the shore of the Lena, downstream from Yakutsk), against Fedor Vetoixka, who had drunk away 317 lb (144 kg) worth of walrus tusks belonging to the trader, who had obtained them in Anadyr. It is only possible to reach the River Lena from the River Anadyr by sea, and thus the Russians had already sailed through the Bering Strait by the mid-17th century; the Chukchi, who lived on the coastline of the Bering Sea, had reached Alaska even earlier.
Colonizing activity set the bases for the functioning of the Russian-American Company. The company's boats reached even the northernmost tips of the Alaska Peninsula, and researchers carried out geological, botanical, zoological, and ethnographic studies of the whole of Alaska. American Russia was divided into six administrative sectors, the most densely populated of them Kodiak and Unalaska, in the southwest, followed by Novoarkhangelsk (Sitka) in the southeast, and the least populated was the northern Mikhailov sector.
From the 1820s onwards, American whalers began to frequent Alaska's waters despite Russian bans. In the 1850s, after the Crimean War broke out, the situation of Russian America became highly vulnerable and the entry of Americans could no longer be stopped. The excesses of pirate crews sacking native settlements were frequent, as were indiscriminate and unrestrained massacres of whales and sea otters by whalers. Then a gold rush began in neighboring British Columbia, which brought thousands of adventurers. This led to fears of a similar human avalanche if there was the slightest hint of gold being found in Alaska. A gold rush did take place only a few years later, when Alaska was under the sovereignty of the United States.
Alaska continued to live by the work of its inhabitants, Russians, Aleutians, and Inuit, but not from the gold rush or the speculation generated. Exploitable coal was found, however. Around 1860, despite the colony's good progress, it became clear to the Russian government that it needed to find a way out of the situation. This large area lacked any form of police, most people's conduct being governed only by their conscience, and until those wishing to get rich quickly suddenly appeared, problems were limited to occasional frontier conflicts with the Spanish, British, and Americans. The immediate future offered nothing better than selling the area to the United States, rather than let Great Britain extend its Canadian territories to the northwest. On March 18, 1867, the treaty selling all the Russian territories in North America to the United States was ratified. At the time, there were 800 Russians, 2,000 mixed-race, 5,000 Aleuts, 10,000 Native Americans and an unknown number of Inuit. The total value placed on Alaska was 7,200,000 U.S. dollars. The two-headed eagle of the Russian shield was replaced by the national bird of the United States, the bald eagle. This is how the northwestern tip of North America ceased to be a European colony.
4.2 The modern increase in human impact
Historically, human population density in the tundra has been very low, and much of their activity has been aimed at exploiting the neighboring seas rather than the terrestrial resources. Yet such a vulnerable environment as the tundra could not escape human impacts even locally. The extreme slowness of all the basic life processes in the tundra ecosystem has already been mentioned, but the speed of human intervention is totally distinct. This explains why any human intervention in the tundra may have a disproportionate effect, both in relation to the quantitative importance of the human population exerting these pressures and with respect to the energy they consume.
The vulnerability of the soils
One of the tundra's characteristics is the close relationship between the ecological community and mineral systems. The structure of the soil means that the plant roots grow in the surface horizons, so that if these horizons are disturbed, the most sterile layers of the soil are exposed, thus preventing the organisms from completing their life cycles. This is one of the reasons why the balance of the tundra ecosystem is so vulnerable, and is a major problem to the recovery of disturbed areas. Until now, no method or technology has been effective in restoring disturbed tundra sites. The most promising technique is the establishment of a multispecies perennial grassland; the gley (sticky clay) soils in some areas of the tundra may be improved using agricultural techniques, fertilizers, and seeding with selected grass mixes.
The tundra's vulnerability is also determined by the fact that the main nutrient reserve, basically nitrogen and phosphorus, is in the humus (the organic portion of soil consisting of partially decomposed plant or animal matter) of the thin topsoil. The low temperatures and the gas and water exchange regimes greatly diminish the activity of soil microorganisms and the quantity of available nutrients. Thus, the organisms that mineralize the humus play a very important role in the transformation of organic matter and in maintaining the tundra's rate of productivity. Saprophagous organisms represent 90-95% of the total biomass and account for 80-85% of the energy exchange. Almost all live in the top 1-2 in (3-5 cm) of soil and humus, showing the importance of this topsoil in the stability and correct functioning of tundra ecosystems. It must also be taken into account that soil formation and the accumulation of organic matter are both very slow in the far north.
Mechanical disturbance of the topsoil is one of the main factors causing the degradation of northern ecosystems, whose current situation is very serious in several regions owing to the use of transport and construction machinery. Almost 15% of the tundra area is highly degraded by all-terrain vehicles and tractors.
Fire and overgrazing
Most of the peoples that traditionally exploited the tundra's resources were reindeer herders or hunters, and ever since they arrived in the tundra humans have set fires in order to obtain new grazing or to make it easier to catch reindeer from wild herds panic-stricken by fire.
In a fire, the subsoil ice nearest to the surface melts, but the impermeable permafrost prevents it from draining, and liquid water accumulates in the soil, locally increasing soil saturation (hydromorphy) and the phenomena of cryosuction and soil rise, which leads to an increase in the rate of bog formation. This results in the formation of pyrogenic tundra with its heat regime seriously disturbed and with poor soil aeration. This in turn prevents the re-establishment of the tree tundra, the type of tundra that is most often deliberately burned.
In the last few decades the frequency of fires has increased greatly, as has the area affected by them. In the Yumal Peninsula alone, 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares) of tundra where reindeer graze have been burnt. The main cause for these fires has been population increase and the increase in the herds of domesticated reindeer (in North America there are very few domesticated caribou). About 2.5 million domesticated reindeer and about 600,000 wild reindeer graze in the Arctic tundra. The carrying capacity of the areas that the reindeers graze is beginning to decline as a result of the change in the structure of the soil's plant cover. The lichen layer has also been reduced by 1-3% by overgrazing.
The exploitation of these pastures by reindeer, bearing in mind the slow growth of lichen and their low productivity, can be carried out only for short periods in any one place. In fact the northward summer migrations of the reindeer do not allow the complete regeneration of the biomass consumed, but they do at least avoid the area's complete overexploitation. Even so, an area that is regularly grazed three or four winters in a row by a herd of reindeer begins to show signs of overexploitation and becomes sparser. The area needs six years without grazing for it to begin to recover, although complete recovery of seriously damaged winter grazing may take 15-20 years.
Pressure on the vegetation and the fauna
The increase in hunting pressure on some animals is also cause for concern, especially in areas where the development of infrastructure has made access easier for hunters. This excessive hunting pressure is mainly suffered by mammals with high-quality furs, by ungulates, but also by fish. In many cases, adequate protection allows the decimated populations of species to recover.
Tundra ecosystems are not very notable for their diversity of animal species, although the number of individuals of a given species may be very high--for example, reindeer herds, populations of lemmings (Lemmus, Dicrostonyx), or northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus). However, some species with smaller populations, or at greater risk from fluctuations in number, are threatened with extinction. The most endangered species include mammals such as the polar bear (Ursus [=Thalarctos] maritimus), the musk-ox (Ovibos moschatus), and the Old World Arctic sheep (Ovis nivicola), and the New World Arctic (or dall) sheep (O. dalli), or bird species such as the gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus), and the red-breasted goose (Branta [=Rufibrenta] ruficollis).
Despite the isolation of most tundra regions, tourism is spreading in many areas that possess typical cultural, faunistic and landscape features, many of them in protected areas. Increased tourism in certain areas raises problems because of the construction of infrastructure, trampling, the impact of vehicles on the fragile soil and vegetation, the erosion of the cultures of indigenous groups, noise pollution, the dumping of wastes, and the intensification of air traffic.
Changes caused by physical and chemical pollution
Tundra has always been considered worthless desert in practical and aesthetic terms. This is why activities with major environmental impacts have been carried out there, such as the production of hydroelectric energy, hydrocarbon prospection and extraction, mining, and the dumping of dangerous wastes, especially nuclear wastes. Its wealth of natural resources, its low human population, and the environment's inherent fragility are factors that have led to the deterioration of many areas, including some that enjoy some form of protection. On the other hand, the public is not very interested in this isolated and distant area, and so institutional aid is much less than that received by other biomes.
In particular, energy and mineral extraction projects in the tundra should be subject to especially rigorous management, given their great environmental impact. Hydroelectric installations, such as those now planned in Quebec (Canada), may seriously alter the established water regime and lead to the destruction of key terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Prospection and mining are also very frequent in certain areas of the Russian Arctic, Alaska, Canada, and the Svalbard Islands and are also dangerous because they are usually accompanied by large infrastructure, pollution, and large volumes of mineral wastes. Oil fields, in particular, typically generate major changes in the habitat, as they require the construction of main roads, oil pipelines, and large installations that often obstruct the migratory routes of some species, such as caribou or aquatic birds. Furthermore, detritus-eating species are attracted by the piles of wastes, on which they come to depend. Coastal oil extraction poses the additional threat of pollution of the coastline.
The tundra's lichens suffer greatly from industrial activity, extraction of hydrocarbon resources (oil and gas), the creation of transport infrastructure, and the atmospheric pollution this creates. Lichens are precisely the organisms that are most sensitive to atmospheric contamination, and in many places they are used as indicators of air quality. The tundra's natural recovery is very slow; this is why pollution by oil seriously alters the functioning of tundra ecosystems. Ecological studies by Russian scientists in the Yamal Peninsula and by American scientists in Alaska have shown that areas contaminated with oil remain lifeless for long periods.
The vegetation dies and the animals and soil organisms disappear. One possible way of resolving this enormous damage is to remove the contaminated layer of the soil. Industrial exploitation of gas and oil reserves requires exceptional precautionary measures to prevent the pollution of tundra ecosystems.
4.3 Environmental questions in the Russian tundra
As late as the end of the first quarter of the 20th century, most of the peoples in the Old World tundra formed part of a natural economy that provided them with all they really needed; trade was almost nonexistent. The terms of trade were not very attractive for the tundra's inhabitants, although they were more attractive to the inhabitants of the taiga, who were more integrated in the general trading exchanges within the Russian economy and that of the rest of the world. In the 19th century, times were hard in northern Russia: Famine, smallpox epidemics, epidemics among the reindeer, and many other calamities all occurred. Education was rudimentary in the tundra region, which, despite its enormous size, had only 15 schools. Literacy among reindeer hunters and herders barely exceeded 1%. Almost all the peoples maintained social organization based on patriarchal clans, and their social relations showed all the features of primitive collectivism: mutual aid, collective hunting and grazing, hospitality. Shamans influenced all aspects of life; they believed that all objects have a soul and that the world is full of a wide range of spirits. Festivals were linked to the hunting calender; they worshipped the reindeer, the elk, the bear and other animals, some of them considered to be ancestors of some tribes.
The social and environmental impact of the Soviet regime
When the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 took place, the northern peoples were in an even more primitive social situation. In 1924, the central government formed a cooperation committee with the northern peripheral peoples, known as the Committee of the North, which played a major and useful role. A census of the Arctic population was carried out between 1924 and 1926. The census-takers went through the entire tundra and taiga from Scandinavia to the Bering Strait, without any help, with reindeer and dogs as their only means of transport. In accordance with the principles of the managed economy, all the hunter and stockraiser peoples of the taiga were classified together as "northern peoples," thus including the aborigines of the Amur, Sakhalin, and Kamchatka, who lived much further south.
The North Committee established protected areas, stabilized the price of furs and set up a state trade network that prevented increases in the price of imported goods. At the same time, attempts were made to improve the daily life of the "northern peoples." These measures allowed the introduction of new political and administrative organizations to replace the former tribal councils in the north with elected bodies based on territorial and not tribal criteria: rural and nomadic native Soviet citizens. By the beginning of the 1930s, the entire north had been incorporated into the New State's political system. From the limits of Scandinavia to the Bering strait, in 1929-1930 different national okrugi (districts) were created for the Nenets, Khanti, Taymyr, Evenki, Chukchi, and Koryak. Half of these districts cover most of the Old World tundra. Their formation greatly stimulated the political, economic, and cultural transformation of northern Russia.
As a whole, Soviet policy in the north was always paternalist. In the 1930s, the priorities were general education, as a key tool to overcoming cultural backwardness, together with the introduction of comprehensive medical care. Schools and hospitals were thus built in the most isolated areas of tundra, and the best experts dealt with the north, some of whom later became outstanding ethnologists. Kolkhoz, or collective farms, gradually began to appear in the north, and developed new areas of economic activity. Fishing, for example, that had until then played only a secondary role, now became a commercial activity. Farms were built to raise animals for their fur, as well as herds of cattle. Raising reindeer became more trade-oriented, allowing the sale of greater quantities of flesh and skins. After 50 years, the kolkhoz were replaced by sovkhozos, state establishments consisting of teams of reindeer shepherds, fishing brigades, hunting divisions, and also some complementary activities, such as raising quality fur-bearing animals, sheep and fowl. A huge gap arose between the conditions of those living a sedentary life in settlements and those leading a nomadic life. The inhabitants of the tundra still performed seasonal migrations with portable tents (yaranga and chum), while those living in settlements led a fully civilized sedentary life. To remedy this situation, in the 1960s the state introduced the policy of "displacements," which consisted of moving many families from the small tundra villages to large towns, but this was a tremendous mistake. A large number of people were left without anything to do. Large areas of the tundra ceased to be used, and the people lost the opportunity to feed themselves with their own produce. Alcoholism, long a plague of the northern peoples, affected almost the entire adult indigenous population.
The government virtually maintained the peoples of the far north at the expense of the state budget, and the law also gave them a very favorable treatment: The severity of criminal sentences against northern peoples was always much less than the sentences imposed against delinquents of other nationalities. All the institutions of popular art among the northern peoples were maintained by the state. Yet this clearly paternal policy had unexpected effects on the aborigines of the tundra and the taiga. A large number of young people became incapable of living in the previous lifestyles. The boys, after being educated in boarding schools away from their parents, knew little of livestock practices, hunting, and other traditional activities. The girls were not willing to lead the life offered by the tundra. The gap between life in the tundra and that in the settlements became unbridgeable. All this led to total disorder; stockraising began to suffer large losses, and the people in the villages had nothing to occupy themselves with and turned to drink. Their hunting grounds were abandoned.
This disorganization has led to the current dissatisfaction of the younger generations of Arctic aborigines, who are not content with their situation. As a whole, the inhabitants of the tundra are a rural population; of the 120,000 inhabitants of the northern lands, only 5,500, approximately 4.5%, work in industry, in the construction, transport, communication and forestry sectors. These 5,500 industrial workers are scattered in small family groups throughout the immensity of Siberia and are not noticeable within the Russian industrial complex. The north has not noticed their absence much, either. It has however noted the political changes involved in the change from the Soviet system to democratic organization based on the free market. In 1990, the Congress of the Northern Peoples of the Soviet Union was held and took the decision to create the Northern Peoples Association. The Association has created large reserves in the tundra and the taiga, in which the traditional exploitation of resources is excluded, and has promoted the return of all the aborigines to their traditional ways of life.
Oil extraction and mining
In the Yamal Peninsula almost all the surface has been churned up and its appearance is nothing like it was before the wells were drilled. In a sense, the Nenets have had the earth pulled out from under their feet. The tundra resists wear and tear very badly. The tracks left by caterpillar tractors take decades to heal, and often the land never recuperates and the earth turns definitively into a wetland. Just in the south of the Yamal Peninsula there are some of the oases of boreal forest within the tundra, a natural phenomenon deserving special protection. They are not productive forests and not worth exploiting, but they are a reserve of genetic diversity. On the other hand, in order to maintain the functional characteristics of the tundra, it is necessary to conserve its surface soil horizons. The role of vegetation in the conservation of the upper horizons is crucial because, in addition to protecting the soil, the vegetation determines its temperature and water regime. If the plant cover is destroyed, the surface-soil horizon disappears, washed away by the water and blown away by the wind. None of this was considered when planning the extraction of gas and oil from the Yamal Peninsula.
Many of the oil wells, even those with what is said to be the latest technology, have (often continuous) oil and tar leaks that contaminate the water table and the rivers. The tundra's aquatic ecosystems are highly vulnerable and very sensitive, as they become eutrophic very easily and recover only with great difficulty from pollution by crude oil, which is unfortunately becoming more and more frequent. Up to 10% of the sediments in the estuary of the River Ob consist of heavy crude oil, with all the consequences that this can have for fishing in the region and upriver. Between August and October 1994, in the basin of the River Pechora, more than 224,000 tons (200,000 metric tons) of oil leaked from an oil pipeline in bad condition, poll uting more than 26 mi2 (68 [km.sup.2]) of tundra. Another indirect effect of soviet industry's wasteful approach was the accumulation on the shores of the Arctic Ocean of millions of large metal drums that used to contain oil or other products that were thrown into the rivers because nobody ever thought of recycling them or considered possible ways of reusing them. The figure of 10 million drums that appeared in the newspaper Pravda in December 1987 (i.e., before the fall of the Soviet regime) may well now have increased greatly. Directly or indirectly, industry has become a destructive force for the peoples of the far north and for the tundra's natural systems.
Other less extensive extractive activities cause lesser damage, often due more to inadequate prospection procedures than to the actual extractive activity when in operation. This is what happened in the case of the gold mines in the Chukchi Peninsula. It is also true of industrial activity, limited to just a few places within the tundra. Certainly, industrial centers like Norilsk, Talnakh, and Dudinka in Taymyr have not devastated the entire peninsula--far from it, but the poisonous emissions from their metallurgical complexes can be detected far from Taymyr, and the same is true of the industrial complexes in northern Yakuty and those in the Kola Peninsula.
4.4 The environmental question in the American and Greenland tundra
Although it is divided between two states by a line as artificial as a meridian (that of 141[degrees]W), the North American tundra is subject to very similar exploitation on both sides of the frontier between Alaska and Canada's Northwest Territories.
From one looter to another
In the first few years after Alaska passed from Russian to American sovereignty, from the two-headed eagle of the czars to the bald eagle of the United States, there was a degree of confusion that left the way open for a series of speculators and opportunists who inflicted considerable damage on the colony of northern fur seals on the islands of the Bering Sea. In 1886, however, the American government banned their capture and maintained their exclusive rights to the catches in the Pribilof Islands in the face of the interests of fur trappers from other countries, mainly British and Japanese. Only in 1911, when the number of northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) had been reduced from 3,000,000 to 125,000 was an agreement signed between the United States, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom (on behalf of Canada, then a British dominion).
In the context of the United States, Alaska opened a new frontier just when the West was beginning to be overwhelmed by the advance of colonization. The discovery of gold, first in the south and later in 1898 in the tundra of the Seward Peninsula, near the modern city of Nome, led to a gold rush comparable with that caused by the finds in California half a century before. In 1900, Nome became the first urban center in the tundra, and its 20,000 inhabitants (or perhaps more, as nobody ever performed a census) made it the largest agglomeration in Alaska. Even though the gold extraction continued for several more years, within three years the town's population had diminished considerably, reaching a low point of 852 inhabitants in 1920.
Few hopes were raised by the first discoveries of oil on the remote northern coast of Alaska more than a century ago. The impossibility of sea transport for more than six months a year did not encourage exploitation, until in 1944 the demands of the war economy made the costs acceptable and pumping began from near Cape Barrow, the northernmost point of the American continent. But serious exploitation of Alaska's oil resources really began only after the discoveries in 1968 in Prudhoe Bay. In 1975, construction started on a 808 mi (1,300 km) pipeline to join the two oilfields to the port of Valdez, on the southern coast of Alaska, the most northerly port in the state free of ice all year round. The installations' technology, and transport by land and sea appeared to have successfully reached the difficult balance between resource exploitation and respect for the environment, until the Exxon Valdez catastrophe on March 28, 1989, spilled 15 million gal (50 million l) of crude oil along more than 932 mi (1,500 km) of coastline, causing serious pollution and the death of tens of thousands of marine animals.
Alaska's oil revenues (25% of total fossil fuel extraction in the United States), which in the 1960s represented only 10% of Alaska's income, now accounts for 85% of state revenue. The population has also doubled in little more than 15 years, essentially due to a net immigration. Although the encampments have been established mainly in the south of the state, outside the tundra area, the extractive activities have a great impact in the areas where they are performed. This has led to the mobilization of native peoples and environmentalists, who have managed to impose very restrictive regulations and limit the areas in which new prospecting can be carried out.
A frontier too far
The Canadian tundra territories are much farther from the country's large urban centers, and its communications are almost exclusively terrestrial or at most fluvial. This is why the exploitation of its resources has taken longer than in Alaska, which has long benefited from the dynamic economy of America's West Coast. The extent of human impact has also generally been more modest. Even so, the Norman Wells oilfield in the lower Mackenzie has been exploited since the 1930s. From 1930 to 1960 the pitchblende deposits at the eastern tip of the Great Bear Lake, where the town of Port Radium was built from scratch, were exploited to obtain radium and other radioactive elements. In the Canadian Arctic there are also copper and nickel mines, as well as iron mining in Baffin Land, but their impact is highly localized. In the early 1980s natural gas was discovered on Melville Island in the Arctic Archipelago, but protests by environmentalists and high extraction costs meant that the companies did not exploit it.
The case of Greenland
The slight warming of the water near Greenland in the early 20th centuries had unsuspected repercussions. The first noticeable increase in the temperature ot this part of the world was observed in 1910; marine mammals moved north and hunting became more difficult. At the same time, however, Greenland's waters filled with fish, which led to a change in the economy and in government policies.
Trading posts soon organized the supply of new types of boats and fishing methods for the Inuit, teaching them industrial fishing methods, new ways of processing fish, and the use of new types of nets. The change from their traditional activities to industrial fishing represented a revolution in Inuit life. In the meantime, the local autonomous governments were maintained, but control of the market, industry, and judicial procedures came into the hands of Danish civil servants, the lannsfogeds. In 1919 the Danish East Greenland Company was founded to exploit the wealth of the region, the least populated and most inhospitable part of Greenland. In 1925 the Danish parliament passed a law to promote Greenland's economy in order to exploit its resources more thoroughly. This was when coal mining started in the Qudtligssat mine, and shortly afterwards in 1933, marble extraction began in Agpat and a little later from Marmorilik. Hunting marine mammals became an economically secondary activity, replaced by sheeprearing and fishing on the high sea.
When the Second World War began, almost all the Inuit hunters were already concentrated in villages; there were few left who maintained the traditional forms of life with long displacements between seasonal summer and winter settlements. During the war, while Denmark was occupied by the Nazis, the United States established a series of military bases in Greenland that allowed them to maintain air links with Britain. Later, the United States began to import cryolite from the Ivittuut deposit. This mineral was essential as a source of aluminium for the war industry. They also set up a meteorological service, which was of great importance in organizing air attacks against Germany.
Exports of raw materials from Greenland changed direction and were mainly sent to the United States and Canada, instead of to Denmark. The profits of their industry increased dramatically and per capita income and the trade balance increased (75%). The new economic situation allowed the creation of a modern health network to eliminate the diseases that were endemic, especially tuberculosis, while increasing living standards led to a general increase in the population, which doubled in the postwar years. The problem of producing enough food for this growing number of inhabitants was also solved.
40 The Inuit lived in igloos, buildings made of ice that were perfectly adapted to the harsh conditions of the polar regions, when the first explorers reached Greenland. An igloo is a masterpiece of engineering. The outer dome consists of compact blocks of ice that are cut with saws and long knives. These blocks are placed on top of each other in a decreasing spiral that is gradually closed forming a hemisphere. The junctions between the blocks are sealed with snow to prevent the flow of air. There is also a narrow entrance below the level of the snow outside that helps to regulate the circulation of air and prevent heat escaping. Inside the igloo there are distinct levels and underground passages that communicate with other dwellings. Surprisingly, snow is an excellent insulating agent, and if a fire is lit or there is an oven, the temperature inside the igloo may easily reach 50-68[degrees]F (10-20[degrees]C), very warm considering the external temperature may be as low as -58[degrees]F (-50[degrees]C). The Greenland Inuit now live in modern prefabricated houses, and igloos are used only as temporary refuges when they are hunting.
[Photo: T. Mauger / Explorer]
41 One of the Inuit's main raw materials was bone, which they used to make all sorts of tools. This bone handle for a knife is 12.4 in (31.5 cm) long and carved in the form of a polar bear (Ursus maritimus) and decorated with an engraving of a whale. It corresponds to the Thule culture and is certainly later than 1000 A.D. The Inuit knew how to manipulate slate, flint, and bone to meet their need for tools. Excavations, apart from articles typical of these people, often yield many items of Viking origin.
[Photo: National Museum of Man, Ottawa / Werner Forman Archive]
42 Tundra settlements are often extremely isolated. The fishing community of Francois, on Newfoundland (Canada), for example, can only be reached by sea, so when weather conditions are too bad for sailing, Francois is totally cut off. Most settlements in the polar regions are small fishing communities that remain relatively prosperous as long as the fishing is good.
[Photo: John Eastcott & Yva Momatiuk / Planet Earth Pictures]
43 Denndrogram showing the genetic relationship between the Uralic speaking peoples and the Indo-European peoples (Bosnian Serbs, Poles, Swiss, German, and Italians). The scale represents genetic difference, or the degree of closeness between the populations. Note the separation between the tundra peoples (Enets, Samoyed, Nenets, and Nganasan) and the other peoples. This separation coincides with these people 's membership of a linguistic group belonging to a different branch of the Uralic language, Samoyedic (see also figure 45). The Samoyed group shows the greatest affinities with the group consisting of the Mari-Cheremis, Komi and Samer, who speak Finno-Ugric Uralic languages. However, other Finno-Ugric speaking peoples are genetically closer to the Indo-European speaking peoples than the other Uralic-speaking peoples. In the case of the Finns, this is explained by the fact that their origin lies in the mixing of the Samer populations from the tundra with the Viking populations of Sweden. The Hungarians are a European people who adopted the Uralic language of the Magyar invaders.
[Drawing: Editronica, based on C.R. Guglielmino, 1990]
44 The aboriginal populations of the most northerly areas of the planet appear to have a common origin, as shown by recent genetic studies. The Mongoloid facial features shared by the different peoples of the tundra suggest an Asian origin not very long ago for the people of this biome, followed by a process of later adaptive radiation. In the case of the Uralic peoples, these morphological features diminish to the west, and thus the most eastern peoples (Nganasan, Samoyed, Enets) are clearly Asiatic, whereas the most easterly populations (Samer, Komi) are more similar to the Europeans as they mixed with European populations from the south. This has all led to the diversity of peoples in the Eurasian tundra. At the northern tip of North America, however, there are only two peoples, the Inuit (who also occupy the western coastline of Greenland and the Chukchi Peninsula) and the Aleuts (in Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands and the Komandorskiye Islands), both groups descendants of the Mongoloid populations of the easternmost part of Siberia (Chukchi, Yukaghir, Koryak). The Siberian Inuit are almost certainly descendants of North American Inuit who crossed the Bering Strait and went back to Asia again.
[Drawing: Editronica, from data provided by the author]
45 The languages spoken by the Aboriginal peoples of the tundra belong to three families: Ural-Yukaghir, Chukchi, and Eskimo-Aleutian. With respect to Ural-Yukaghir, some authors do not agree with grouping the Yukaghir language together with the Uralic languages and consider that they are separate languages (see also figure 43).
[Drawing: Editronica, from data provided by the author]
46 The Norwegian populations of Samer, specifically the Finnmarksvidda population, like all those in Scandinavia and European Russia, have lived with the reindeer for thousands of years, and their relationship with the animal has ranged from hunting to domestication. In addition to flesh, the reindeer provides them with milk, with which they make butter, cheese, and yogurt. The reindeer is also a good draft animal.
[Photo: Mimsy Moller / Samfoto / Still Pictures]
47 The Nganasan are a Samoyed people who occupy the central tundras of the Taymyr Peninsula. They are basically shepherds, reindeer herders who still maintain their shamanistic beliefs in a series of good and bad higher spirits.
[Photo: APN / Novosti]
48 The peoples that live in the Yakuty tundra in northern Siberia maintained their languages after missionaries and Russian pioneers settled in the region. Their lifestyle has been slightly modified, though. The Evenki, who used to be hunters, became reindeer herders and converted to Christianity. The Evenki woman in the upper photo is wearing traditional costume and is showing the family's Christian icon. The Dolgan (lower photo) introduced some features of Christianity into their shamanistic beliefs but did not adopt Christianity.
[Photos: Christina Dodwell / The Hutchison Library and Peter Prokosch/WWF / Still Pictures]
49 The dismembering of walruses and the removal of their tusks by a group of Chukchi. In the 19th century a Russian missionary who tried unsuccessfully to convert the Chukchi to the christian faith explained that when they said the Lord's Prayer, instead of asking for "our daily bread" (a foodstuff they were not familiar with), they asked for "our daily walrus." In addition to the flesh, the Chukchi also use the skin, the blubber, and the tusks of this marine mammal.
[Photo: Frank S. Todd / Gamma]
50 Social and cultural adaptations have allowed humans to settle permanently in the Arctic regions, as anatomical and physiological adaptations alone would not have allowed them to survive the biome's rigorous environmental conditions. The material culture of the Inuit people is a good example of the ingenuity and skill shown by Arctic peoples in using any resource available, such as stones, skins, bones, tendons, animal fat, and even snow and ice. The Inuit cannot obtain wood--except for the occasional piece of driftwood that arrive at the river mouths--and have replaced the wood that is so important in the economy of peoples in other latitudes with bone, which they use to make all sorts of objects. This Inuit man from Greenland has used bone to make "sunshades" to protect himself from the glare of the snow. Bone is also used to make beams for houses, sledges, canoes, shafts for harpoons, knives, and spears. To work bone they use a bow drill consisting of a stick with a metal or a stone tip. One end of the stick is held in the mouth and is spun by a handheld bow tied with tendons.
[Photo: T. Mauger / Explorer]
51 In the northern Pacific two distinct technologies are used to make harpoons. The simplest, mainly distributed in waters free of ice, uses harpoons with a nonrotatory, barbed tip that remains embedded in the prey. The much more complex technology of harpoons with a rotatory tip developed later, accompanying the growth of the hunting of marine mammals in Arctic waters.
[Drawing: Editronica, based on Fitzhugh and Crowell, 1988]
52 The main technological invention of the Inuit and their basic weapon for hunting is the rotating-point harpoon. It is a complex instrument, consisting of a wooden handle and a sharpened bone tip that can penetrate the extremely thick skin of marine mammals. The tip fits onto the handle and is also joined to it by a cord. Once the harpoon is embedded in the animal's body, the tip separates from the shaft and the line is played out as the animal pulls. The animal's attempt to free itself makes the tip turn within the wound, embedding it even further (bottom right). This type of harpoon has the advantage over the fixed-tip harpoon (bottom left) that it remains embedded in the animal's muscles, below the skin and the blubber, so that the ice can not break it when the animal tries to flee. This makes it possible to hunt larger animals such as walrus and whales. The use of this weapon and the kayak, a light canoe covered in the hides of marine animals, allowed the Inuit to colonize the coastline of the Arctic Ocean successfully. The tips shown here are from the coast of the Bering Sea and the Chukchi Sea.
[Photo: Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution; drawing: Editronica, from data supplied by the author]
53 The limited sunshine at high latitudes and the cold that forces people to wear thick clothing prevent the synthesis of Vitamin D3, which is necessary for the body to absorb calcium from the diet. Lack of calcium causes the illness known as pibloktoq by the Inuit of northern Greenland, known in the west as a "great attack of hysteria," and also the occurrence of rickets and tetanus among the peoples of the far north. This is why their skin usually has little pigmentation, allowing them to absorb and use all the sunshine. This is not, however, always true. The Inuit may have dark skin like this man in Greenland, protected from the cold by a pair of polar bear-skin trousers. The Inuit's diet includes a lot of raw fish, with a high calcium content, meaning they are at less risk of suffering chronic deficiency of calcium.
[Photo: John Lythgoe / Planet Earth Pictures]
54 This Inuit man and his daughter are collecting wild berries at a time of food shortage in Umingmaktok, Northwest Territories (Cana-da). The Inuit people of Umingmaktok live mainly by hunting and fishing, and plants are a seasonal resource they use only when spring starts and they have used up the food reserves stored for the winter.
[Photo: Yva Momatiuk and John Eastcott / AGE Foto-stock]
55 Trade of Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) skins has long been important for the inhabitants of the Arctic regions where the animal occurs. It was first taken with traps, but rearing in farms began in Alaska in 1865 and has now spread to many other places. The highest value skins are of the variety known as "blue" fox, which are a light bluish grey in winter and darker in summer. The white variety, with a white coat in winter and dark in summer, has also been widely hunted (see figure 33).
[Photo: Antoni Agelet]
56 An Inuit woman cutting the flesh of a caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Umingktok in northwest Canada with an ulu, a special knife for this purpose. Once the reindeer has been caught, the Inuit dismember it, bone it, and cut the flesh into strips, which are then macerated with fat or berries, or it may be dried to produce mipku, dehydrated meat that is kept for the winter. The Inuit formerly used all parts of the reindeer, including the marrow of the longer bones, the embryos, and ingested food which they boiled. Since they came into contact with Western cultures and obtained rifles, easier hunting means they can now reject the less appreciated parts and eat only the best cuts.
[Photo: Yva Momatiuk & John Eastcott / AGE Fotostock]
57 In winter the Inuit catch seals with a trap sited near a breathing hole, a hole made in the ice by an animal so it can obtain air to breathe. First, the hunters shoot the seal and then they take it from the water with an instrument consisting of a long line tied to a pera made of wood or bone and covered with hooks. When hunting in summer or spring, when the seal submerges, it is necessary to use a heavy instrument with ballast, but if it is autumn or winter, it is necessary to use a light instrument that floats. Obviously, great skill is required for success at this type of hunting. The hunter has to hit animals that raise only their snout above the water to breathe; the line must be thrown immediately to hook the seal's body before it submerges. These two hunters in northwest Greenland have caught a bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus).
[Photo: B. & C. Alexander / NHPA]
58 The changes over time of the number of seals caught and the prices of their skins in the Northwest Territories, Canada, between 1961 and 1985, showing the periods when there were international campaigns against seal hunting. The struggle against abusive exploitation of certain resources often leads to ecofundamentalist positions that deny the right to use these resources to the detriment of some peoples whose tradition and precarious stability justify determined activities. Rather than completely suppress these activities, they should be controlled, so that all these populations can survive, including human minorities, such as the Inuit. Killing seals is no more intrinsically objectionable than slaughtering livestock. This obviously does not imply acceptance of hunting activity endangering the survival of a species or a given population.
[Drawing: Editronica, based on Bourque, 1986]
59 Fish forms part of the diet of all tundra peoples, although it is not their most important foodstuff. In spring, the Inuit form small groups to catch the salmon (Salmo) that travel upriver to spawn. The fishermen wait for them with harpoons and nets, catching them in large quantities. In this period they also catch other river and lake fish. In winter, when everything is frozen, they have to break the ice and use a hook and line. The fish caught has more uses than as a mere foodstuff. Sometimes when bone and driftwood are lacking, the Inuit make runners for their sleighs with frozen fish that are aligned and wrapped in skins previously submerged in the sea through a hole in the ice. The runners are shaped by stamping on them, then they are covered with a mixture of moss and fat, and finally the rough surfaces are filed before they dry.
[Photos: Eva Momatiuk & John Eastcott / AGE Fotostock and B.& C. Alexander]
60 The peoples of the Arctic regions either hunt or herd reindeer and breed these more or less domesticated herbivores, which are different from the wild ones (see figure 72). The Samer (upper photo) stable their reindeer and keep them mainly for their milk. The Chukchi people's reindeer, however, are only semidomesticated. They have to be caught with a lasso and cannot be milked or used as draft animals. Furthermore, they need to carry out long journeys in search of grazing, and the herders have to adapt to these journeys and try to control them. A good reindeer herder has to know a lot about livestock and their needs, as the route followed on the migration depends on the type and the abundance of plants they find on their route. Thorough knowledge of grazing is not enough. The herder's plans also depend on the livestock that has to be led. The route may vary depending on whether the animals are young, females with small pijiks (year old calves) or castrated males. The herder must also know the most common illnesses suffered by reindeer and the way to cure them, and also what to do when a vajenka (female) gives birth. In the autumn the herder must organize mating to obtain the best calves.
[Photos: Mimsy Moller / Samfoto / Still Pictures and Frank S. Todd / Gamma]
61 The English pirate and explorer, Sir Martin Fro-bisher (1539-1594) was the first European explorer to contact the Inuit after the disappearance at the end of the 14th century of the Norse colonies in Iceland. On his expeditions in 1576, 1577, and 1578, Frobisher traveled along the coast of Greenland and Labrador and discovered Frobisher Bay. On his first voyage he fought against the Inuit and lost five men, but took a native prisoner who caused a sensation in England but who soon died of a cold. The watercolor dates from after 1585 and is by Hans Sloane in the style of John White, an artist who accompanied Frobisher on his voyages.
[Photo: British Museum / E.T. Archive]
62 The search for an alternative route to China and India that did not require rounding the southern tips of Africa or South America stimulated European expeditions to find the Northwest Passage. Martin Frobisher (1539-1594) rediscovered Greenland in 1576 while he was searching for the Northwest Passage. Later, while William Baffin (1584-1622) was exploring the coasts of Greenland and of Baffin Island (which is named after him), he discovered Lancaster Sound, the gateway to the Northwest Passage, between Baffin Island and Devon Island. This map was drawn by Baffin himself and shows the route he followed in 1615 through the Hudson Strait. Baffin did not recognize the importance of his discovery as he thought Lancaster Sound was a closed bay, and on his return stated that there was no Northwest Passage. This affirmation discouraged later searches, which did not start again until the early 19th century.
[Photo: British Museum / E.T. Archive]
63 From the early 17th century onwards, the whales of the Arctic were intensively hunted, first by the Danes, and then by the British, the French, and the Dutch. The main aim of hunting these cetaceans was to obtain their blubber, from which an oil was extracted that was widely used in lighting. The engraving shows a Dutch whaling fleet operating in the Arctic Circle (1720). The blubber was unloaded by means of cranes and by handcarts transported by two men. It was then cut into thin strips and heated to extract the oil. The invention of the kerosene lamp in the second half of the 19th century and then of the electric light slightly reduced the pressure on whale populations. Whale oil is now used in soap, cosmetic, and emollient production.
[Photo: G.I. Bernard / NHPA]
64 The late 19th century rivalry between the western powers to conquer the North Pole inspired this drawing.
Until the 1820s nobody thought of claiming the land in the Arctic. Foreigners had no interest in it, because its low population density and few resources did not offer any economic or political benefits. The indigenous peoples did not see why they had to lay claim to land that obviously belonged to everybody. The discovery of underground oil and gas, however, and the strategic and military advantages they might bring, made these areas highly desirable. The Arctic was still little known at the beginning of the 20th century, but by the late 1950s half a dozen states had explored it and taken possession of every single square kilometer. More or less the same happened in the Antarctica at the South Pole (see "The race to the South Pole," page 184).
[Photo: J.L. Charmet / Explorer]
65 The tundra has not escaped human disturbance, despite its isolation and the extremely harsh climatic conditions. Stockrais-ing, tourism, hunting, mining, oil extraction, hydroelectric schemes, and military activities, and so on, have had all an increasing impact on the Arctic's ecosystems. As they are considered unproductive areas of little aesthetic value, they have often been used to dump wastes, including dead animals, as well as nuclear wastes, shown here in a photo taken in Greenland. Radioactivity, organic and chemical pollutants, heavy metals, acidification, and water pollution are some of the most worrying problems. This type of pollution affects not only the soil and the plants and animals, but also the native peoples, who form part of the tundra food chains.
[Photo: P. & F. Vernay / Gamma]
66 In the 1960s, the number of natural gas and oil fields in the Arctic increased greatly. A good example of this is the oil field in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, which supplies the U.S. energy market. It is often stated that prosperity is impossible for the far north unless it exploits its oil resources, and that extraction can be carried out with damaging the environment. Yet in fact oil fields cause major changes in the habitat, as they require the construction of large installations and roads. A pipeline network is also necessary to connect the wells to the refineries, as the almost permanent ice cover makes the use of oil tankers impossible.
[Photo: Mike Potts / Planet Earth Pictures]
67 Before the implantation of Soviet political and administrative organization among the peoples of the Siberian tundra, the hunters and stockraisers lived in more or less conical tents consisting of a frame of long stakes covered with reindeer skins. There was a hole at the top so that sunlight could enter and the smoke of a fire could exit, and in the winter in the lower part a snow wall was built to conserve the heat. These tents could be easily dismantled and loaded onto a sledge or a boat when it was necessary to move. Around 1960, the decision by the state to transfer many nomadic families in the tundra to large cities led to the disappearance of almost all these traditional dwellings.
[Photo: Jack Stein Grove / Eye on the World / WWF / Still Pictures]
68 No other Arctic region has been so intensively manipulated and exploited as the Soviet tundra. Most mining extraction is of the most valuable minerals, such as gold, extracted from these mines in the Chukchi Peninsula. Between 1920 and 1929, and also after the Second World War, the Soviets developed infrastructure to exploit the tundra's rich mineral and coal deposits. Large-scale industrial development boomed, and it became necessary to construct new cities and towns, roads, railway lines, electricity supply lines, and a set of facilities that were built hastily on the virgin tundra soil and led to the deterioration of large areas.
[Photo: Marek Libersky / WWF / Still Pictures]
69 After the "Exxon Valdez" accident, waves deposited a thick layer of crude oil on the rocks and sand. The photo shows the coast of Latouche Island, Alaska. This catastrophic spillage caused oil slicks, a mobile layer of crude oil covering the surface of the sea for many kilometers and disrupting the entire ecosystem. Oil degrades very slowly, and although the surface of the sea and the coasts can be cleaned relatively quickly, the problems created last a long time. Oil slicks are responsible, among other things, for the poisoning and death of many plants and animals, which not only reduces diversity but also affects the human populations that depend on marine resources. Although accidents to oil tankers or oil rigs on the high seas are very spectacular, most of the crude oil that ends up in the sea in fact comes from continuous small discharges of industrial or domestic origin, and these are rarely mentioned in the news.
[Photo: AGE Fotostock]
70 The use of geothermal energy in the midst of the tundra area is common in Iceland, where other uses are also found for the natural hot water, the result of local volcanic activity. A bath in the thermal lake "Blue Lagoon," in Svartsengi, in the southwest of the island, is a good treatment for skin diseases. The geothermal power plant on the lake's shores uses the deposits of hot water for heating and for producing electricity. In the 18th century, Iceland underwent a period of decadence and even lost its parliament, the Althingi, the oldest parliament in Europe, in 1798. In the 19th century it took the road to independence, which it obtained in 1941, during the Second World War. Now it is a country with one of the highest standards of living, despite the social and economic limitations imposed by its natural environment. Its low population (255,000 people in an area of more than 39,000 mi2 [100,000 [km.sup.2]]) and its high educational level contribute to the conservation of the natural heritage, which is also the main attraction of the country's growing tourist industry.
[Photo: Robert Francis / The Hutchison Library
71 Westernized Inuit market of fish and meat in Egedesminde, Greenland. Since 1953, Greenland has been a county of Denmark, and since 1979 it has enjoyed a statute of autonomy and a parliament. Although most of the population is Inuit, there is also a minority of people from Denmark, the main source of immigrants. At the beginning of the 20th century Greenland was still an unknown and remote Danish colony with low economic returns, where the Inuit maintained their traditional ways of life without taking much notice of the colonists. In the 1950s, the question of improving the living standards of the Inuit arose, which was very low in comparison with that of the Danes. This led to proposals to train them in new professions (breeding sheep and reindeer, mining, industrial fishing, and fish processing). It was possible to carry this out only by concentrating the Inuit into in larger settlements, that is to say, radically changing the community structure. The Danish government decided to provide free housing to the people of Greenland and to concede long-term mortgages so some people could buy themselves homes. This program did not, however, consider the social and ethnic aspects of the question and stalled within two years. A new program was then started, the G-60 program, that did not seek to adapt Inuit society to Danish standards, but rather to strengthen the development of Inuit culture.
[Photo: Eckhart Pott / Bruce Coleman Limited]
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|Publication:||Encyclopedia of the Biosphere|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2000|
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