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by Pyotr KOLOSOV, Dr. Sc. (Geol. & Mineral.), Chief Research Assistant of the RAS SB Institute of Geology of Diamond and Precious Metals (Yakutsk), German ARBUGAEV and Maxim LYUBAVIN, participants of the dog team expedition

Presence of mammoths, bisons, tarpans, and other mammals of the Pleistocene (2.6-0.011 mln years ago) and skillful gaming practices with the assistance of domesticated wolves (hunting laikas) approximately 30 thous. years ago enabled primitive hunters to survive in the extreme climatic conditions of the polar regions in the north-east of Asia and marked the beginning of development of the Arctic.

Through endless Artic regions in a dog sledge.

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Map of Yakutia. Sites: 1-stopping place of man in the estuary of Yana River; 2 - Berelekhsky mammoth "cemetery" in the basin of Indigirka River; 3-dog skull site in the Yeadonian strata (age 25-30 thous. years) along Rassokha River. The expedition of Yukagir route passed on dog-teams from the settlement to the Cape of Anisiy on Kotelny Island and is marked by dotted lines.

Mammoth hunt scene (artist, Ye. Nesterova).


As a constituent part of Russia, the north-eastern region of the Arctic is among top priorities of national policy. This severe climatic region accommodates enormous natural wealth; in particular, according to some estimates, in the continental outskirts of the Arctic Ocean, the extracted hydrocarbon resources make up about 110 bln tons of the conventional fuel. In 2013, the RF President Vladimir Putin approved the Strategy for Developing the Russian Arctic and Protecting National Security till 2020. A relevant program complying with the provisions of this document is being developed in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), 13 districts of which are located in the Polar regions. Local residents are engaged mainly in reindeer-breeding, fishing and hunting; they also participate in mining. It is appropriate here to note that as early as in 1925-1930 the USSR AS organized the first large-scale expedition to study development of local productive forces in this territory. Today, scientists are discussing a possibility of arranging a similar expedition in 2016 using the resources of the RAS, focused on the polar zone.

The year of 2014 was declared the Arctic Year, during which new approaches to the formation of a complex program for socio-economic development of the Arctic and Northern regions for 2014-2016 and up to 2022 have been proposed. But these are problems of today or tomorrow. In this article we'll try to scan the remote past and study in detail the process of populating the Northern territories.


About 30-35 thous. years ago, tribes of hunters reached the Arctic latitudes in Siberia, which is evidenced by artifacts found at a Paleolithic site in the estuary of the Yana River in the north-east of Asia*.

See: A. Tikhonov, Yu. Burlakov, "Causes of Northern Giants' Extinction", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2008.-Ed.

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The extreme environmental conditions made primitive man to actively develop new means of food procuring. It makes sense to assume that he had problems with hunting big thick-skinned, fast animals such as mammoths, bisons, tarpans, etc., with no reliable hunting means. He had to "design" it (it is well known that struggle for a piece of bread is a good teacher). Finally, people took notice of wolves, who side by side with them used to hunt in groups. In addition, man and wolf time and again ran into each other, especially near the bag.

Ancient man was able to assess such characteristics of this animal as intellect, caution, observation, well developed hearing, vision, and sense of smell. The wolf can lay an ambush, wait for the right time for attack, run fast (up to 65 km/h), is hardy and knows productivity of group hunting. He can see well in darkness and survive without food for many days running.

For centuries tribes of hunters took wolf-cubs to bring them up (this sometimes happens even in our days). The cubs growing together with the children of hunters, tried to imitate man's voice and, after centuries, learnt to bark. In the extreme conditions, grown in captivity and then set free, in fact already half-domesticated wolves had difficulties in surviving. They could not compete with wild animals for food, since in the wild life cubs ate taught to procure food in a very early age. The half-domesticated free and hungry wolves lived in a cold territory and could adapt themselves to man, get used to his smell, and win his confidence. Centuries later, such wolves could "give birth" to a new species Canis familiaris (domestic dog).


Proceeding from the scientific data, we can come to a conclusion that in the present-day Arctic zone of Yaku-

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tia, a territory of the most severe climate in Eastern Asia, tribes of hunters and predators (semi-domesticated wolves) had to fight for survival, as compared with people and animals living in more favorable environmental conditions. Probably it was there that primitive man domesticated the wolf and got a reliable friend and perfect assistant-a dog. First, the domesticated wolf turned into a gun-dog, not a watchdog, a rescuer or a shepherd. She helped find mammoths, bisons, and other animals, together they encircled a prey, and in general was very helpful for driving-in hunting. In severe climatic conditions, only a dog, presumably a Yakut laika, could help primitive man to survive: venturesome, universal, rather hardy and clever hunter, the dog has preserved many skills of the wolf. Early domestic dogs apparently resembled wolves in many ways.

This hypothesis is proved first by two dog skulls found in the Rossokha River, left tributary of Alazea (for further details see the book Giants of the Ice Age by N. Guryev, P. Lazarev, and P. Kolosov, Yakutsk, 2011). The artifacts were found in the Yeadonian suit layers of the Karginsky Period, are around 25-35 thous. years old. Secondly, based on the fact that genetic composition of the Eastern Asian dogs differ greatly, which took much time to form, geneticists of Sweden, USA, and Australia made a conclusion that dogs as domesticated animals have been existing in this very region longer than in any other place. Thirdly, the most ancient (20.9 thous. years) in the world authentic finding of bones of a domesticated dog was discovered in Siberia near Krasnoyarsk, while in other regions the earliest findings are dated by a lesser age: 14 thous. years (Germany), 11 thous. years (Kamchatka), and 10.4 thous. years (North America). There are other findings of dog remains too. Apparently man domesticated wolves on several continents at different time.

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Assisted by dogs during hunting, primitive man procured food, which helped him survive in the severe climatic conditions and start settling in the Arctic. Finally, a circumpolar (related to one of the polar zones of the Earth) culture was forming. Descendants of hunting tribes of the Late Paleolithic (35-11 thous. years ago), well adapted to the Arctic environment, are represented by native minorities of the North-East of Asia (Evens, Yukagirs, Chukchi, etc.). In the severe taiga conditions of Yakutia, these tribes managed to survive due to their perfect hunting skills and laikas. Even today Yakut hunters go hunting together with their dogs: a talented dog means a rich bag. As for draught-dogs, they were replaced by snowmobiles, though they were the only means of transport there for centuries). A good team of dogs was as necessary as a rifle or fire in a yurt. Laikas were indeed indispensable: in hunting, in guarding, and what is most important-as a means of conveyance. In any weather, in fog or snow-storm, they helped hunters get to their traps or nomad camps, served as a reliable compass capable of finding a right way.


To some extent, evolution of a circumpolar culture is attributed to breeding of draught-dogs. It is not by chance that a monument to the dog named Balto, a leader of the dog team in Alaska, has been installed in New York. The stuffed figure of another dog named Togo is exhibited at the Museum of Draught-Dogs in the suburb of Anchorage. Both these dogs are laikas known in North America as Siberian husky. Representatives of this breed took part in the tragic Russian polar expedition in the early 20th century.

...The year of 1902. The Arctic coast of the Laptev Sea. Eduard Toll, famous researcher and discoverer, headed a regular expedition in search of a mysterious Sannikov Land*. His ship Zarya got stuck in the gulf between the islands of Belkovsky and Bolshoi Kotelny. It seemed as if his attempt to find a phantom island was in vain. However, Toll obsessed by the idea, made violent efforts to continue the expedition. Together with his three companions-astronomer Friedrich Seeberg and two guides Yakut Vasily Gorokhov and Tungus Nikolai Dyakonov-he arranged a dog team, left the ship and set towards Bennett Island of the De Long archipelago. Today it is hardly possible to imagine how brave and at the same time reckless these people were as a success was not so easy to attain, while at stake were their lives.

In 1903, the future Admiral Alexander Kolchak, as a member of this expedition onboard of Zarya, organized a rescue operation to find Eduard Toll and his friends. He was one of those who believed that they were alive, had reached Bennett Island, and were in need of help. Kolchak realized that after they reached the Great Siberian Polynia, the most difficult natural barrier on the way to Toll's supposed wintering site (Bennett Island), they would have to drag the ship by ice and land. The only transport he could use were dogs, more than a hundred of them. The rescue party set towards

See: V. Glushkov, "Sannikov Land: Fact or Fiction?", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2004.-Ed.

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the northern edge of Kotelny Island-the cape of Anisiy...

Since then 110 years have passed. A small expedition led by one of the co-authors of this article German Arbugaev, composed of five enthusiasts (including the other co-author Maxim Lyubavin) repeated the route of Kolchak from April 16 to May 17, 2013, with 22 laikas. It was a risky trip, but all participants relied on one another and believed in endurance of the draught-dogs. Everyone worked hard to get ready for the trip: they trained the dogs not only in the suburb of Yakutsk, but even reached the natural park Lenskiye Stolby* located 240 km away from the city.

From the starting point-the village of Yukagir (north of Yakutia)-we set to the northern edge of the archipelago, the cape of Anisiy, which was the final point of the expedition led by Kolchak. Another thing we were interested in was to see if it was possible to reach Bennett Island where in 1903 Toll's personal belongings and diary had been found. The expedition was organized under the auspices of the Government of Yakutia, sponsored by Purina fodder production company, Polar Airlines, and the Yakut Branch of the Russian Geographical Society.


Each of us, driving the sledges for hours, had a feeling of sailing in the endless Arctic "vacuum". The dogs gave the only hope that we would not be lost. They turned

See: P. Kolosov, "Natural Treasure on the Lena", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2013.-Ed.

into "our brothers". It had nothing in common with a simple trip to an unknown place. Draught-dogs never show weakness. No matter how tired they are, they never growl or grin at a dog-team driver. They bear any emotional splash and take any behavior for granted. Laikas cannot feel aggrieved for a long time and are happy to notice any cordial gesture of man. They are faithful friends and industrious animals. You will be astonished to feel so much will and strength in a small fluffy animal. They are totally committed to man, which is above all praise.

On April 17 we set up the first camp. We tie dogs to stakeouts (a kind of fastening in the form of a peg to tie a dog), and feed them. Then we inspect their legs, and slightly pet them expressing tenderness. After having a bite we go to our sleeping-bags.

The next day we continue our way. The expedition steadily moves forward until we face a challenging obstacle... Toroses, toroses and again toroses of the Laptev Sea. A chaotic wall of rampant ice giants. The first serious test on the way. We realize that we are unable to bridge the obstacle straightforward. The dogs enjoy unplanned rest; we climb by turns the ice rocks to find any loophole in this confused mass of ice and snow. It is difficult to imagine the rumble when these toroses were formed in Sannikov Strait. No way out. All attempts are in vain ...We open the map and consult.

The decision is made-we'll walk along the wall until we find a way out. In the worst case, we'll make an overnight stop on the ice and then keep moving ahead. We finally find narrow passage ways. Each time we hope to

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see a flat ice behind the wall. However, ice walls change one another. The sledges move unsteadily as if they are small boats in a ten-point storm: going up or down.

It takes 7 hours to pass through the toroses. Dogs and people are extremely tired. However, the sledges keep moving. It is there that we realize the advantages of this mode of transport, as compared with modern motor vehicles. Dog sledges are able to overcome obstacles impassable for snowmobiles. Finally we realize: we can search for passage ways for miles and miles on and make a decision: to cut a path through by axes and spades. After ten hours of active work, sharply deviating from the route and going deep into the Laptev Sea, we find ourselves on a flat ice and decide to make an overnight stop.

April 19. We are facing another problem-a piercing Arctic night cold: the temperature goes down to -45 °C. Until we kept moving, no one felt it. As soon as we stopped, we got into a cold trap. Snap hooks got frozen, and we had to warm them with our breathing. As luck would have it, a metal gear for dog sledges broke down, so we had to repair it with bare hands. Frost-bitten fingers are painful and do not bend. Gusty wind "plays" with the tents, we have to fix them deeply in the ice and cover ten flaps with snow. Finally, we prepare dinner. Salty boiling water gets cold in seconds. Metal spoons stick to the tongue. People are too tired and cold to talk. The sea wind penetrates through heavy clothes and makes us feel chilled to the marrow-the only wish is to hide in the sleeping-bag, reindeer fur coats get warm, and fall asleep.

April 20. The expedition reaches the island of Bolshoi Lyakhovsky. In 1903 the hunter Alexei Gorokhov found a skeleton of mammoth Mammuthus primigenius (Blumenbach, 1799), who died 49 thous. years ago there. In the winter of 1909-1910 it was taken away in dog sledges. Today, it is exhibited at the Paleontological Gallery of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Sometimes the dogs are running half in the snow. On rare occasions, on bare stones. They get hurt rubbing their feet to bloody wounds. Nevertheless, they kept running day and night, wagging fluffy tails. The animals did not even eat the second fish in order to run easily. It is true their life was more difficult than that of the people.

The weather offers us another "surprise"-there starts a snow-storm. The snow desert of Kotelny Island comes to life and everything around begins chaotic motion. The snow-storm now calms down now intensifies. We have to stay where we are and observe powerful and unpredictable Arctic weather. It has no pity to the nature or man, can mix all colors and deprive a traveler of ear and eyesight, hide any guiding lines and strike panic and fear into anybody. And only dogs... perhaps, only dogs are not subject to its charms. Finally the snow-storm abates, and, irrespective of leaden-colored clouds, snow and fog, the expedition continues its advance to the final point-the cape of Anisiy. The fog becomes thicker and dog-teams try to be close to each other, constantly changing the leader. We all feel the breathing of the Arctic Ocean. The more we move forward, the colder the weather becomes. Hoar-frost covers our clothes, sledges, faces of peoples and dogs. For the whole period of the expedition we had to stop all in all for 10 days due to snow-storms.

May 10. The sledges reach the Cape of Anisiy on the northern edge of Kotelny Island. The weather suddenly changes and the fog disappears. We can see an endless dark open water (clear evidence of reducing Arctic ice area due to global warming). No way for us ahead.

Deviating from the topic of this article, we have regrettably to share our sad impressions: the regions of the Arctic we visited were polluted by man: fuel tanks, polyethylene packing materials, other wastes, etc. You can hardly imagine the size of this problem unless you see and feel it...

May 17. We passed 1,549 km using dog-teams. The longer we ran, the better we understood that dogs got a second breath. At the end of our journey it was easier for them to pass large distances. This means they could run and run. One day we covered 125 km in 18 hours. The expedition crossed the Laptev Strait through endless ice toroses, passed Lyakhov Islands, crossed the Sannikov Strait, then Kotelny Island, and finally reached the Cape of Anisiy. After all, we successfully returned to the settlement of Yukagir from where we had left in the mid-April.

...We completed our expedition in the tracks of the pioneer explorers in the year of the centenary of the Russian Geographical Society and 110th anniversary of rescue expedition headed by Alexander Kolchak to save the lost team of baron Toll. Thus, we once again confirmed the reliability of traditional transport-draught-dogs-in severe conditions of the Arctic.

Photos of the expedition by Ye. Arbugaeva, other illustrations supplied by P. Kolosov


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