Our conversation with the Nenets covered the field but did not touch on the purpose of much of our trip, archaeology, because they are very nervous about people - outsiders - digging or doing anything in the ground, which they consider sacred. It holds many of their sacred places, the bones of their ancestors and of their offerings, the various spirits in the form of sacred sleds and sacrifices. So it's best not to advertise yourselves as archaeologists. We photographed but did not disturb these current sacred sites.

- William Fitzhugh


Yamal Video Field Notes
The stick gods overlook the sacred landscape of the Yamal peninsula.
AVI 1.5Mb


Andrei had collected information about our next object of survey, the Tusida Hill region, visible as a pronounced peaked pyramidal hill about 5-6 miles away as the crow flies (although there are no crows, only ravens, in the Yamal). We heard there was a place here especially sacred to the Tusida clan and we found it immediately - an old sled half grown over in turf and grass, covered with reindeer bones and antlers. "Tusida" means "without fire." Nenets kill a designated animal on these spots, split their bodies and eat one half there and deposit the other half at the site for the gods. Usually the right side. Andrei had written a paper on Nenets ritual sacrifice practices.


- William Fitzhugh

Today we found a sacred site that contained carved Nenets stick gods. The site was on a conical hill separated from the rest of the area with a large pile of reindeer antlers and several sacred objects such as wooden stick gods: "Siede" and "He-He", a shaman's drum hoop, and sacred sled parts. Test-pitting a  nearby camp site that had signs of a recent occupation, we found pottery, charcoal and burnt bone. Several of the drilling platforms of Bovanyenkogo were now in sight. The "Siede" are servant deities, that serve to protect and aid Nenets. If, however, things go bad the Seide god may be whipped or destroyed by the holder, who would then in return make a new Seide as a replacement. "He-He" is a deity that embodies the high spirits on the land and represents the sky gods.


- Sven Haakanson

Today we surveyed and mapped an old Russian geological camp. In the midst of this camp was an old Nenets sacrificial site which had been scattered about. This sacred site had a polar bear cranium, antlers and a stick with seven notches in it. These notches represented seven layers of the universe and areused in three different variants for understanding the world by Nenets shamans. The first one: the sky consists of seven layers, with the earth being a special world and the underworld being a singular world; second: three notches are heaven/sky, the middle is the earth acting as an axis and the last three are underworld/hell; and third: the notches represent both sky and underworld, with the earth acting as the axis.


- Sven Haakanson

Yamal | Expedition | Culture | Landscape | The Past | Contact | Home