International Scientific Conference "Archeology of the Arctic"
November 19-23, 2017

Prehistoric skis and reindeer herding in Eurasia.

K-Å. Aronsson

Place of work Ájtte, Swedish Mountain and Sami Museum, Jokkmokk, Швеция




The oldest nearly complete pair of skis in the world (5200 BP) is an archaeological find from northern Sweden. The ski length is 204 cm (Pic. 1) [Åström, 1993. PP. 129-131].

         In the oldest (6200-5700 BP) chronological layer of the rock-carvings in Alta, northernmost Norway we can´t find any certain depiction of a skier. Skiing was probably unknown among the first immigrants to northern Scandinavia. Skis were also unknown for the early immigrants to northern America. Snowshoes were their way for walking on snow. Walking with snowshoes is well depicted in the oldest rock carvings in Alta [Helskog, 1988. P. 70, 82, 127]. The conclusion is that the technique of skiing was developed some time after the Bering land bridge was closed and the Bering Sea opened at about 15 000 years ago.

In contrast to northern Eurasia where reindeer herding is widespread, it was unknown among the indigenous peoples of northern America. Arguments put forward in earlier research that knowledge of skiing is a prerequisite for reindeer herding seem plausible [Manker, 1954. PP. 125-132].

An intense debate about the origin of reindeer herding started in 1917 AD. According to Chinese literature dated to 499 AD dear herding people are described in the northern border areas of China [Laufer, 1917]. Laufer put forward the idea that reindeer herding originated in the areas surrounding Lake Baikal. The theory that reindeer herding was diffused from centres in eastern Eurasia is still current in the debate. Recent genetic studies indicate that the Scandinavian domesticated reindeer was introduced from the east and replaced the wild stock.

The first literary evidence of tame reindeer in Scandinavia is the Narration of Ottar, at about 892 AD. Archaeological studies of changes in settlement patterns in northern Scandinavia indicate that reindeer herding was introduced sometimes around 500 AD [Aronsson, 1991. P. 113; Karlsson, 2006. PP. 160-165].



Aronsson, K-Å, Forest reindeer herding A.D. 1-1800. An archaeological and palaeoecological study in northern Sweden // Archaeology and Environment 10. University of Umeå. 1991. –125 p.

Helskog, K. Helleristningene i Alta. Spor etter ritualer og dagligliv i Finnmarks forhistorie. Alta. 1988. – 135 p.

Karlsson, N. Bosättning och resursutnyttjande. Miljöarkeologiska studier av boplatser från perioden 600-1900 e.Kr. inom skogssamiskt område. English summary. Umeå universitet, 2006. – 172 p.

Laufer, B. The reindeer and its Domestication. Memoirs of the American Anthropological Association. New York: Vol IV:2, 1917.

Manker, E. Till frågan om renskötselns ålder. – Luleå: Norrbotten, 1954. – PP. 125-132.

Åström, K. Skidan från Kalvträsk. – Umeå: Västerbotten 3:93, 1993. – PP. 129-131.

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