Development of Reindeer Herding

It has been estimated that reindeer herding started from wild reindeer hunting. The wild reindeer were very important game after the ice age, when humans started to spread towards North. After the amount of wild reindeer started to diminish, so did hunting. From hunting, people started to tame the wild Scandinavian wild reindeer and move towards small scale reindeer herding.

There is no total certainty about how they were tamed, but it is possible that the wild reindeer herds were caught into broad fence-like areas. Individual species were tamed in several ways and used as lure animals for hunting other deer. They also provided meat and milk, and carried equipment.

The Koltta Sámi people used a method of bringing tamed female reindeer and wild male together in the rutting season till the end of the 19th century (Helle 1982).

Living a self-sufficient life, reindeer was totally utilized. It carried equipment and was the key means of transportation in the northern wilderness areas. Reindeer provided food and the material for clothes and tools.

Reindeer were privately owned from early on. Norwegian chief Ottar, who lived in the 800s, owned 600 reindeer. It is likely that these reindeer were owned or herded by the S√°mi people who lived in his tax collecting area.

The origin of reindeer herding

Reindeer herding changed from small herds to bigger ones. The large-scale reindeer herding originates from western Norway from the late Middle Ages. When the amount of mountain deer started to lessen, this was the beginning of a new nomadic way of herding reindeer. Reindeer herding started to spread to different directions in the 14th century, and it reached Northern Sweden and Tornio in Lapland between the 15th and 17th centuries.

In nomadic reindeer herding, reindeer pastured in large areas. In the winter, reindeer were in the forest areas where lichen grew. In the summer, reindeer went to the high  mountainous moors or the coast area and islands of the Arctic Ocean. The distance could be as far as 400 kilometres. The reindeer herds pastured in smaller areas when they were in the southern forest areas of the mountains. The herding was less nomadic in those days.

Reindeer Herding Spreads to Finland

From the mountain areas of Sweden and Norway, large-scale reindeer herding gradually spread east. Reindeer herding came to Finland via Enontekiö and Muonio. The Finnish settlers and peasants were quick to adopt reindeer herding.

In the 17th century, reindeer where taken to western Finland due to the wish of King Kaarle IX. These trials did not really work out very well. By the mid 18th century, reindeer herding was practiced north from Kuhmo-Oulu line, which is similar to the area of today.


The Rock Art

There is rock art found from Alta in Norway. There are elks and also wild reindeer pictured in a fence. The rock carvings are 5000 to 6000 years old.

Rock carvings in Alta Norway