New research paper about cooperation in groups of Saami reindeer herders

The Tangled Woof of Fact

People rely on one another in fundamental ways, but cooperation in groups can be fragile. Every day, we face tensions between acting in a socially responsible manner and following our own self-interest. These situations are called social dilemmas and they come in varying shades of subtlety, from littering and eBay to overpopulation and climate change. Overcoming these dilemmas can make all the difference, especially for marginalised groups such as pastoralists – people who make their living from herding animals.

Pastoralists use about a quarter of the world’s land for grazing their herds. Nowadays, all over the world, governments are privatising many of their pastures, and so herders must work together in increasingly fragmented places.

We wanted to learn how groups of Saami reindeer herders living in Norway’s Arctic Circle worked together. Our study, just published in the journal Human Ecology, found that cooperation pivoted around the ‘siida’: a…

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Tibetan lives: Hunting

I’ve just got a paper accepted in Land Use Policy about nomadic pastoralists in Tibet and hunting. As we all know, space is limited in scientific journals, so here is additional text as well as pictures.

A a free copy of the article, made available until April 7, 2016, can be found here.


Dead Tibetan antelope. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

Hunting has been a subsidiary occupation for the nomads in most of Tibet for a long time. Ekvall (1968:53) writes:

[T]he nomads are enthusiastic hunters. They carry firearms at all times; the demands of pasturing takes them close to the haunts of the herbivores of the higher country; they hunt beasts of prey in order to protect their herds, and they are accustomed to taking life for meat and skin.

As for the nomads in the Aru Basin, they relied on hunting as a supplementary way of making a living, primarily because they were poor, and the opportunity to hunt could be a matter of life and death.

As one nomad said:

When I was young we had no choice but to hunt, if I didn’t hunt my family would starve and maybe die.


When my children were young they had to wear clothes made out of skins from wildlife. I was so poor that I couldn’t afford to make clothes out of sheep and goat skins.

The nomads hunted predators such as bears, snow leopards and wolves because they prey on livestock, while herbivores were hunted because they provided the nomads with a secondary source of meat, skins and furs.

Wildlife in the Aru Basin

The Tibetan Plateau supports several threatened endemic species, the survival of which depends on protection within the Chang Tang Nature Preserve.

The Tibetan Plateau supports several threatened endemic species, the survival of which depends on protection within the Chang Tang Nature Preserve.

The Chiru

Tibetan antelope

The chiru is a moderate-sized bovid, endemic to the Tibetan Plateau. A dramatic decimation in the number of chiru, from >1 000 000 before 1900 to the most recent estimate of <75 000 has been wrought by hunting. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

Tibetan antelope

A young chiru alone in the Aru Basin. It was clearly confused and was continually running in circles. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

Tibetan antelope

A young chiru running from a wolf. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

The chiru is considered endangered both internationally, and by the national authorities.

The Wild Yak

Wild yak

The wild yak, a large bovid endemic to the Tibetan Plateau. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

Estimates of the total number of wild yaks vary dramatically, from 500, to 20 000-40 000.

The Blue Sheep


Blue sheep. Photo: (C) Bård-Jørgen Bårdsen.

The blue sheep, a medium sized bovid intermediate to Capra and Ovis but probably more closely related to Capra, is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau.

The Tibetan Gazelle

Tibetan gazelle

The Tibetan gazelle, a small bovid that is endemic to the region. Photo: (C) Bård-Jørgen Bårdsen.

Tibetan gazelle prefers open landscapes, plains, hills, and even mountains where they may be found in broad valleys and on ridges at high elevations if the terrain is not precipitous.

The Kiang


Kiang, a large equid, is still common in some areas of the Chang Tang. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss


Kiang has generally decreased in numbers during the past century; however they seem to increase in some areas. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

The Predators


Wolf in the Aru Basin. Photo: (C) Bård-Jørgen Bårdsen.

The relatively common large predators present include wolf (Canis lupus), snow leopard (Unica unica), brown bear (Ursus arctos), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), sand fox (Vulpes ferrilata), and lynx (Lynx lynx).

Hunting techniques

The Goktse (khog-rtse)

The Aru nomads used a leg-hold trap, called Goktse, to catch antelopes, gazelles, blue sheep and kiangs.

Leg-hold trap

The gokste is about 15-20 cm in diameter, made from small brush branches, or anything available, covered with yak fiber. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

Since animals have different size of legs, the traps were made in different sizes, for wild assess the ring had to be made much bigger while for gazelles it was smaller.


Up to a dozen sharpened prongs made from chiru horns converge down and inward so that when animals step into the trap, the prongs prevent it from withdrawing the leg. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.


A rope usually secures the trap to a stone in summer or is frozen to the ground during winter so that the trap is not torn loose when animals struggle to get free. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

The ponda (bod-mda’)

The Tibetan rifle is not very efficient: if a nomad came across a herd of chirus he would only be able to kill one animal.

After the first shot, all the remaining animals would flee and would be long gone before he had time to reload, since reloading usually takes about 3-5 minutes.

Traditional rifle

The ponda is the old traditional Tibetan matchlock-style rifle. It was used to hunt all of the wildlife present in the Aru Basin, and was the only means by which the nomads could kill/scare off wolves and bears. More recently all firearms have been confiscated. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

The rifle was the only weapon used for hunting wild yaks, which was not without danger. If they failed to kill the yak with the first shot, the yak would either run away or attack before they could reload.

Wild yaks have been known to kill people because it survived the first shot. One nomad, for example, said that he found a couple of bullets inside a wild yak that he had killed.

The tseka (dzaekha)

The tseka, or funnel trap, was used only to hunt chirus.

They are directed at the antelope’s migration patterns (the females migrate north in May to give birth).

Tseka line

Tseka is a trap made up of long lines of piled up dirt and stones, which are arranged to funnel the animals closer and closer together. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

Tseka line

At the end of the Tseka trap the nomads would dig holes, in which they put leg-hold traps, or a number of nomads would lay waiting with their rifles ready. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

Old tseka

The (somewhat unclear) trap pictured here was claimed to be over 1000 years old. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

The tsekas were used mainly during winter, except for the ones that were directed towards the female birth migration route in May.

The various wildlife species were also hunted in different seasons, with blue sheep and gazelle only hunted during February, chiru of both sexes hunted in winter and male chiru primarily during summer after the females have migrated north.

The kiang was hunted throughout the winter, even though it was not a preferred target for hunting.

Why hunt?

The nomads primarily hunted the chiru to get extra meat, but also to trade the skins with people from Ladakh in India.


During our first fieldtrip in June 2000, the Forestry Police officer that came with us spotted what he referred to as “a suspicious looking truck.” He gave chase, and pulled the truck over. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.


In the back of the truck we found 13 antelope skins and 19 heads. The people in the truck claimed that they bought the skins and heads from nomads in the surrounding area, RMB 150 for one skin and 50 for one head. The heads and skins were confiscated and the people in the truck were fined. Photo: (C) Marius Warg Næss.

The skins from the chiru were traded because of its very fine fur (shatoosh), a type of wool much finer than cashmere.

According to Schaller (1998) skins from the chiru have been traded from Ladakh to Kashmir for a very long time. In Kashmir, the fine shatoosh wool was woven into high quality shawls, a popular bridal gift for the Indian elite.

They also hunted wild yaks, from which they used the meat and made shoes of the skins. Blue sheep, Kiang and Tibetan gazelle were mainly hunted for meat. Some people also used the skins from blue sheep to decorate their dresses, and some monks bought the skins because they made good material for making drums.

Hunting gave the Aru nomads an opportunity to get meat without cutting into their capital (i.e. animal). As such hunting was an effective way for them to diversify their subsistence base and reduce the risk of falling below a minimum subsistence level.

On the other hand, hunting was also a means of reducing the effect of disasters, in that when livestock was lost due to e.g. a blizzard, they could compensate for this by hunting, and avoid cutting into the capital.

Ban on hunting

During the late 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s the popularity of shatoosh wool increased both in India and Europe.

In 1995 the New York store Bergdorf Goodman ran this ad. for shatoosh:

The source of the wool is the mountain Ibex goat of Tibet. After the arduous Himalayan winter is over, the Ibex sheds its down undercoat by scratching itself against low trees and bushes… A difficult process then commences as local shepherds, called Boudhs, from the region of Changtang, Tibet, then climb into the mountains during the three spring months to search for and collect this matted hair (From Schaller 1998:300)

Most of the facts in this quote are wrong, and the international trade of shatoosh has been illegal since 1979 when the chiru was put on the CITES list.

In the early 1990’s prices increased: prior to 1990 a skin could be sold for RMB 60-70, in the early 1990 it had increased to 400. This was primarily due due to increased foreign demand.

The motivation for hunting the chiru changed from mainly being a means of diversifying subsistence risks, to a more “capitalistic” motivation: selling skins could give the nomads a means of making money superseding anything they could dream of making through selling products from their livestock alone.

In the early 1990’s some of the nomads also bought modern rifles. Hunting traditionally, an individual hunter could typically kill around 20-30 animals per year: with the help of modern rifles the take could easily increase to over a 100.

Soon after the chiru provided the nomads with an increased cash flow, a ban was declared on all hunting, since the number of wildlife had decreased dramatically.

The Aru nomads now experienced a decrease in living standard, and several emphatically stated that their livestock did not produce enough milk, wool or meat to sustain them throughout the year.

Also, the ban has resulted in some resentment toward wildlife, and then especially toward the chiru. While hunting gave the Aru nomads a feeling of getting something back from the presence of wildlife, the ban has resulted in the view that wildlife competes with their livestock for forage.

Several nomads stated that they did not believe that life for both humans and chiru is possible in the basin, e.g.:

Whenever we move to summer grazing, the tso [chiru] moves to our winter pasture and eats up all of the grass. When we then come back in winter, there is almost no grass left for our animals.

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Reindeer Husbandry in a Globalizing North – resilience, adaptations and pathways for Actions (ReiGN)

It’s the time of the year when we eagerly await the results from the year’s (many) research proposals.

After receiving rejection after rejection, a permeating gloom was slowly taking its toll: not really a recipe for a wonderful Christmas!

But then some good news finally arrived yesterday!

Earlier this year an application for establishing a Nordic Centre of Excellence was submitted to Nordforsk.

The project, Reindeer Husbandry in a Globalizing North – resilience, adaptations and pathways for Actions (ReiGN), was one of four applications that got funded.

So the gloom has lifted and all is well!

I’ll be writing more about this project and all the collaborators later on, but for now you can read more about the work-package I’m leading up here.

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Predatory or prey – the rise of nomadic empires

In 1227 Genghis Khan died leaving behind a legacy of conquest and the largest land empire in history, only fully realized by his Grandson Kubhlai Khan with the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty in 1267 (Chaliand 2004).

While the Mongolian empire has been argued to be the odd duck in relation to the establishment of nomadic empires in Central Asia[1], it has left behind a notion of barbaric nomadic tribes slaughtering their more peaceful sedentary neigbours for conquest and booty.

Gabriel writes in the book Genghis Khan’s Greatest General: Subotai the Valiant (p. 49) for example:

To Genghis and his generals war was a way of life, and the states that lay on Mongolia’s borders were tempting targets for raids and plunder, splendid opportunities for Mongol warriors to do what they had always done, make war, carry off booty, and get drunk in their tents!

Currently, two contradictory views on the rise nomadic empires prevail, namely that of nomads as

  • predatorsextorting tribute from agricultural societies and
  • preydefending against expansionist agricultural societies.

Nomads as predators – extorting sedentary societies

Barfield argues quite compellingly in the book The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China and in the book chapter The shadow of empires: imperial state formation along the Chinese-Nomad frontier that nomadic pastoralists in Inner Asia developed hierarchical states or empires in response to the possibility of receiving tributes from China.

The nomadic state maintained itself by exploiting China’s economy, and not by exploiting the nomadic pastoral production. Rather herders were organized in such a fashion as to make the extortion of the sedentary neighbouring states possible.

‘Centralised empires on the steppe were economically dependent on exploiting a prosperous and united China. Nomadic empires came into existence simultaneously with the unification of China and disappeared when China’s political and economic organization collapsed. In other words, there was a close correlation between unification of China under native Chinese dynasties [in contrast to native dynasties, non-native dynasties practiced a policy of political and military disruption as well as actively campaigned against nomadic unification] and the rise of imperial confederacies in Mongolia’ (Barfield 2001:22).

In short, nomads extorted their sedentary neighbours in China to gain trade rights and subsidies. In effect China was paying the nomads off because it was cheaper than going to war on a population that could simply move away (Barfield 1989:9).

In general, the relationship with the outside world determined the size and complexity of political organisation (Barfield 1993, Barfield 1989). Thus the development of hierarchical political organisation among nomadic pastoralists was not a response to internal needs, rather it was developed when they were forced to deal with more highly organized sedentary state societies on a regularly basis (Barfield 1989:7).

More specifically, the political organization of nomadic pastoralists’ mirrored in sophistication the organization of the neighbouring sedentary peoples with whom they interacted (Barfield 1989, Barfield 1993).

The most complex and centralised emerged as a response to powerful states such as China (Barfield 1993).[2]

Nomads as prey

In the book ‘Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present’ Beckwith (2009) provides a compelling argument against the previous point of view.

Instead he argues that the main concern of Central/Inner Eurasian nomads was trade.

He links this to especially one essential feature: the ‘Central Eurasian Culture Complex’, namely the political necessity for lords to support their comitatus warriors (a war band of friends sworn to defend the lord to the death)[3] by providing them with luxury items and a high standard of living.

For Beckwith (2009:320) this created a powerful economic need that could only be satisfied through trade.

For Beckwith (2009:32) the idea of nomads as predators stems from stereotypical and biased thinking, i.e. the idea of nomads as barbarians and natural warriors.

While nomads grew up on horseback and learned from early childhood to use the compound bow to hunt and protect their herds – skills that have apparent uses in war, Beckwith (2009:32) argues that the concept of nomads as natural warriors is steeped in outdated environmentalist thinking.

The core of nomads as natural warriors can be summarized in the following way: because of living in harsh steppe climate, they were not only skilled at riding and shooting but they were also tough, courageous, ruthless, warlike, aggressive, cruel, loved violence (in other words, barbarians) and thus much better at war than their sedentary counterparts (Beckwith 2009:322).

Beckwith (2009:323) notes the somewhat puzzling fact that while almost all historical empires were founded in the same way, i.e. after long, bloody and treacherous civil wars,

[…] the bloody victories of Attila, Chinggis, or Tamerlane are still deplored, [but] the equally bloody victories of the Graeco-Roman, Persian, and Chinese emperors are related with enthusiasm by historians past and present.

He goes on to argue:

Non-central Eurasian historians from antiquity to the present have been blind to the savagery and unrelenting aggression of their own ancestors. The most famous, or infamous examples, the Romans are chastised not because they were so cruel to their slaves and tortured or killed so many people for public entertainment in such vicious ways, but because some of those tortured and killed were Christians (Beckwith 2009:323).


Certainly there are plenty of instances of Central Eurasians’ inhumanity to each other or to peripheral peoples, but they cannot begin to be compared, for sheer cruelty and relentless aggression, to the Romans, the Persians, the Chinese and their successors right down to modern times (Beckwith 2009:323).

While the traditional view of nomadic peoples in relation to acquisition of wealth is that they did so through warfare and raiding, Beckwith (2009:324) argues in contrast that the primary source of wealth acquisition stemmed from trade and taxation.

In effect, nomads insisted on free trade and viewed any attempt by sedentary states to restrict it as provocation for war (Beckwith 2009:344).

In fact, during conquests Central Eurasians usually attempted to avoid conflict and tried to make cities submit peacefully. It was only when cities resisted or rebelled that retribution was called for (not unlike e.g. Alexander the Great during his campaigns).

Supporting the position that trade was the main concern is the fact that they usually spared merchants, artisans and other productive men (while enslaving women and children, Beckwith 2009:328-9).

Similarly, securing conquered territory was primary motivated by taxation. Beckwith (2009:329) writes “[i]f all this sounds exactly like what sedentary peripheral states were doing, that is because it was indeed the same”.

Pertinently, Beckwith (2009) turns the table around on a prevailing view: rather than China defending against expansionist nomads it was nomads—who were primarily concerned with trade—that defended themselves against an expansionist China.

Historical sources indicate that peasants often defected to the steppe; the reason being that while most nomads were poor, peasants were even poorer[4].

Beckwith (2009:329) argues that the only way to avoid losing people, power and wealth in this manner was to build walls, limiting trade with nomads and attack them as often as possible.

In other words, walls never served a defensive purpose but rather an offensive purpose. Basically, it was put in place to protect conquering land and keeping the populace under control. The argument is compelling since the walls erected by the Chinese did not work as a defensive measure at all, nomads just rode around it when invading.

The myth of the “needy” nomad

The core of the idea of needy or predatory nomad is that the people of the steppe-zone in central Eurasia did not by themselves provide enough of life necessities and depended on agricultural products, textstiles etc. produced by their sedentary neigbours. Moreover, when they could not obtain what they needed or desired through trading with the more advanced peripheral empires the Central Eurasian nomads invaded and took it by force (Beckwith 2009:324).

According to Beckwith (2009:325) it is now ell established that Central Eurasians practiced agriculture and either taxed or traded peacefully with peoples who produced what they needed or wanted but did not themselves produce.

Pertinently, when nomads did attack they usually took livestock and people, not agricultural produce (Beckwith 2009:325). Central Eurasians also produced their own clothes, jewelry, tools, wagons, housing, horse gear, weapons and were skilled metalsmiths.

For Beckwith (2009:325) the idea that Central Eurasian empires or states developed as a response to, or because of the possibility for extorting sedentary states is partly typological in nature, i.e. equating a mode of production of one group of people with that state as a whole.

In other words, while the ruling elite might have been nomadic pastoralists, Central Eurasian empires consisted also of people who were not.

Beckwith (2009:32) uses the Scythians as an example:

The Scythians practiced not only very many different modes of production but the very same modes the peripheral peoples practiced, because the states of both regions regularly expanded by force into each other’s territories and peoples who practiced agriculture and herding were found in both kinds of state.

Concluding remarks

In the end, this is a simplification of the positions and I have no preference for either of them. Most likely they’re both correct and wrong at the same time.

I however think that Beckwith’s point of view entails a much needed shift of perspective in how we view the history of nomadism in general and specifically for Inner Asia.

A case in point is how we view the Mongol conquest and Genghis Khan specifically. Don’t get me wrong, as all conquests it was brutal, but Genghis Khan was not only a mass murderer set on world domination. He was so much more, and in many respects he was ahead of his time.

In the book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Weatherford notes that Genghis Khan and his successors instigated:

  • Meritocracy – kinship no longer decided how far you could rise, only individual merit, loyalty and achievement
  • Universal religious freedom – the Mongols didn’t care what faith you had as long as you payed taxes and followed rules
  • No one was exempted from the law – not even the ruling elite and Genghis himself were considered above the law
  • Abolished stealing and selling women
  • Diplomatic immunity – Genghis refused to hold hostages and granted diplomatic immunity for all ambassadors and envoys, including the ones he was currently at war with
  • Established a free trade zone – organised the towns along the Silk Route in the largest free trade zone
  • Lowered taxes for everyone -abolished it for doctors, teachers, priests and educational institutions
  • Established the first international postal system
  • Abolished torture – but he mounted campaigns to destroy bandits and terrorist assassins.
  • Created an alphabet
  • Introduced paper currency – intended to be used everywhere (Khubilai Khan)
  • Attempted to create primary schools for basic education – for children so that all could become literate (Khubilai Khan)

As Weatherford (2004:xxiii) notes

In nearly every country touched by the Mongols, the initial destruction and shock of conquest by an unknown and barbaric tribe yielded quickly to an unprecedented rise in cultural communication, expanded trade, and improved civilization.


[1] I use the terms Central Asia, Inner Asia, Central Eurasia interchangeably throughout.

[2] An argument could be made that the significant factor determining the possibility of the development of conquering nomadic empires was the domestication of the horse and not necessarily the relationship to neighboring states. Since horses are predominantly important among Asian pastoralists and not in e.g. Africa, Middle-East and Fennoscandia, it was therefore no wonder that empires did not arise to the same degree in these areas. While partly true, horses provided only military mobility. The important thing to remember is that for nomadic pastoralists in general, the economic system is also mobile. As Barfield (1993:138) writes “[f]or although there are no great sheep epics, they are the foundation of the steppe economy, with horse rising only an important adjunct to this more essential task”.

[3] According to Beckwith (2009:12-3) the comitatus and its oath are known to have existed as early as the Scythians and is similar to the oath of blood brotherhood to the death known to have existed from the Scythians through mediaval times, e.g. Secret History of the Mongols. The core consisted of a small number of friends, Genghis Khan is said to have had four: Khubilai, Jelme, Jebe and Subotai often called ‘the four wolves of Genghis’ by enemies. The core group often committed ritual suicide to accompany the lord in death and was buried with a large number of weapons so as to be prepared for battle in the next world. Subotai, for example, apparently pledged himself to Genghis by saying “I’ll be like a rat and gather up others I’ll be like a black crow and gather great flocks. Like the felt blanket that guards the tent from the wind, I’ll assemble great armies to shelter your tent” (The Secret History, cited in Gabriel 2004:8). The comitatus warriors took their oath freely and thus broke their connections to clan or nation. The comitatus warrior became as close or closer than family to their lord, they lived with him and were given great rewards and honors throughout their lives in return for their oath (Beckwith 2009:13-4). According to Beckwith (2009:15-6), the comitatus is found both directly and indirectly in historical sources dealing with: the Hittites, the Achaemenid Persians, the Scythians, the Khwarizmians, the Hsiung-nu, the ancient and mediaval Germanic peoples, the Sasanid Persian, the Huns, the Hephthalites, the Koguryo, the early dynastic Japanese, the Turks (e.g. Uighurs), the Sogdians, the Tibetans, the Slavs, the Khitans, the Mongols etc.

[4] Note that not only peasants defected but also high level officials.


Barfield, T. J. (1989). The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China. Studies in social discontinuity, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.

Barfield, T. J. (1993). The Nomadic Alternative, N.J., Prentice Hall, Engelwood Cliffs.

—. (2001). The shadow of empires: imperial state formation along the Chinese-Nomad frontier. In S. E. Alcock, T. N. D’Altroy, K. D. Morrison, and C. M. Sinopoli (eds.), Empires: perspectives from archaeology and history, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 10-41.

Beckwith, C. I. (2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.

Chaliand, G. (2004). Nomadic empires: from Mongolia to the Danube. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, N.J.

Gabriel, R. A. (2004). Genghis Khan’s Greatest General: Subotai the Valiant, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Weatherford, J. M. (2004). Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world, Crown, New York.

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Market economy vs. risk management: how do nomadic pastoralists respond to increasing meat prices?

Just got paper published in Human Ecology that looks at the old question of what exactly motivates nomadic pastoralists.

Reindeer herd in corral. (C) Bård-Jørgen Bårdsen.

Reindeer herd in corral. (C) Bård-Jørgen Bårdsen.

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Summer school in Kyrgyzstan

Just returned from an amazing trip to Kyrgyzstan. I participated on a summer school for students from the University of Tromsø (UiT) and the American University of Central Asia (AUCA).

The summer school–called “A Comparative Perspective on Cultural Ecology and Nomadic Life in Central Asia and Norway”–was arranged by the Department of Anthropology at AUCA and Centre for peace studies at UiT (I gave a talk that you can find here).

We spent most of our time in Issyk Kul with talks and fieldwork assignments for the students.

Group photo with students, teachers and Manas story-teller at the museum in Cholpon-Ata.

Rock Art

Reindeer rock art at the Rock Art sites of Cholpon Ata.

Being interested in nomadic pastoralism, we went out to look for Kyrgyz nomads 3 days in row as part of training student in doing anthropological fieldwork.


Students interviewing herders.

The nomads turned out to be more elusive than I originally thought: we visited 3 valleys and most of the people we talked to were actually hired shepherds.

Very few had animals of their own–if they did they owned very few animals.


A herder milking a horse.

One of the beautiful valleys we visited during the fieldwork assignments. Issyk Kul is in the background.

The herders we talked to had mainly sheep, cattle and horses. Only a few goats were observed.


A herd of animals.

The daily herding is mainly done with the help of horses.


Herder on horseback.

The animals graze on the mountain sides during the day, but are brought back to the camps in the evening.


Herding animals back to camp.


Returning to camp for the night.

Walking to another household for an interview.

The students did an amazing job with the interviews.

To sum up, it was a really cool trip and I would very much like to go back to do some more research.

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Anthropology, science and the challenge of subjectivity

My (somewhat limited) experience teaching anthropology (particularly ecological anthropology) has left me somewhat flabbergasted as to what is taught at universities about science.

Basically, a common claim is that anthropology cannot be a science (unfortunately, not only prevalent among students as we will see) because anthropologists are people with intentions studying other people, also with intentions.

A prevalent misconception is that because anthropologists are individuals shaped by personal histories and backgrounds that shape what they are interested in studying (true), the truth or validity of any claim (dare I say, interpretation?) they come up with are relative to that specific person, i.e. subjective (not true).

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