Spatial Expression of Kinship among the Dukha Reindeer Herders of Northern Mongolia

Matthew J. O’Brien and Todd A. Surovell


Pastoralism represents a crucial shift in the relationship between humans and animals that permeates all aspects of culture. One aspect of this transition is changes to settlement and camp structure. Previous studies indicate pastoralists situate themselves in areas suitable for their domesticated animals as opposed to foragers who situate themselves closer to consumable natural resources, such as food and raw materials. Building on these past studies, this paper explores how demography and kinship factor into the decision of where to set up camp and where to place one’s house. We explore this issue through the ethnoarchaeological study of the Dukha reindeer herders of northern Mongolia. Our study reveals two important findings: first, group and herd size does not impact camp spacing; second, the distribution of camps and houses are well correlated with the degree of relatedness. These empirical findings are a significant contribution to our understanding of pastoral settlement structure and further highlight the importance of kinship in nomadic cultures.

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