And another thing, about Siberia… (Eastwards to Novosibirsk)
Following last week’s arrival into Siberia, proper … and it does feel like a milestone after much preamble … I’ve been looking behind Siberia’s deceptive emptiness to find some rather interesting revelations about the region and peoples … all good nuggets, even dating back into prehistory.
For a start: it covers over three quarters of Russian geography but is home to less than one third of it’s population. That’s sparse. And, speaking of population, roughly 40,000 years ago it was home to three species of humans … at least! That is incredible.
The region is also a strong suspect for a catastrophic world event that eliminated over 90% of all forms of life on Earth: the Permian-Triassic Extinction, occurring 250 million years ago with the violent formation of the “Siberian Traps”. This is essentially a volcanic, stepped landscape of plains and hills typically formed by a mass expansion of flood-basalt.
It was one of the largest volcanic events in Earth’s history, with it’s far-reaching consequences re-shaping the planet’s flora and fauna … after almost erasing it entirely. It’s a familiar story of volcanic dust and ash blocking out the sun and resulting in the collapse of the food chain from the photo-synthetic upwards.
Well, that’s the opening act at least … followed by abundant acid rain and excessive carbon dioxide build up causing run-away global warming. A three-course last-supper … or very nearly.
OK, it’s important to note that this is one theory about the origins of “The Great Dying”. It may have resulted from the combination of several extinction events, but historically the region did have a part to play in an unprecedented global downturn.
As a positive consequence … for human endeavour (and greed) at least, the geologic upheaval also resulted in the formation and deposition of rich mineral resources, still exploited today.
In relatively recent times the human population in Siberia became characterised by extensive nomadic culture, propelled on its course by the rotation of the seasons and their subsequent impact upon food supplies and living conditions. This culture is still ubiquitous across the Steppe, but “progress” has a habit of excluding, marginalising, absorbing … or simply erasing cultures that are considered “primitive” by the standards of modern industrialised techno-consumerism.
Witness the Stalinist attempts to “incorporate” nomads into the “greater” Communist State … by placing them in blocks of concrete-slab flats. What’s a reindeer herder to do? In the words of the Bard: “Duh …”
At any rate, the complete span of nomadic peoples can be categorised into four main language groups (apparently): Uralic, Altaic, Yeniseian and Paleosiberian. This is more for our convenience than theirs of course. Sounds simple enough? Well no … These are broad enough umbrellas to blanket a vast amount of cultural individuality, and some considerable debate over inclusion too, not to mention the (arguable) differences between established languages and their local dialects.
So Altaic, for instance, can be sub-divided into Macro and Micro variants which total 74 … well, roughly. Uralic sub-divides into 36 … or thereabouts. It’s a veritable bird’s nest and not an exact science by any means.
Additionally, for completeness there are also languages (and their speakers?) that exist historically but are now extinct practically. OK, now I’m being pedantic.
On the ground, so to speak, all of this filters down into real nomadic tribes-people such as the Oirats, Khakas, Tuvans, Barga, Uriankhai et al, who may or may not know (or care) that we have grouped them into a handy four, and instead are quite content to just “get on with it” … thanks for asking.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 44) We discuss the history and development of Novosibirsk
[Photo by ugra]