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The reindeer in the prehistoric art of Siberia

  • Ian Whitaker

The relatively naturalistic representation of animals of the cervidae family has long been recognized as dominating much of the prehistoric art of Siberia. These animals are found in the petroglyphs which date from the Neolithic, but are, perhaps, better known in the bronze items that have been so much sought after in the last 1OO years. I t is my purpose here to examine these artistic products in an attempt to identify the species of animals the artists were intending to represent. In the analytical literature dealing with this subject one finds a noticeable lack of unanimity among the critics, who might be forgiven some biological imprecision, were they not frequently very confident in the ascriptions that they make. Identification of the species of cervidae will enable us better to understand the cultural background of the artists, and may lead to a greater understanding of the purpose underlying their creative activity. I can claim only one special qualification for this task, namely that I have spent almost two years of my life as a reindeer herder during anthropological fieldwork. This experience may, perhaps, better enable me to recognize the species of deer intended by the artist than can other scholars, whose acquaintance with the animal has been restricted to the museum.

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