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House and buildings

Летние жилища лесных юкагиров. Фото В.И.Иохельсона

A winter stationary dwelling made of tree trunks cleared of branches. The ancient dwelling is a truncated pyramidal semi—earthen hut (chandal) (чандал) with a body of four tree pillars, with roots, and four crossbars, on which a flat roof covered with turf was laid. The taiga Yukaghirs lived in conical chums (numa), covered with rovduga (tanned buckskin) in winter and larch bark in summer. The frame of the chum consisted of four poles, fastened in a circle with a osier-bed in five or six rows, and a square frame at the top. 20-30 thin poles rested on the poles of the frame.

The floor was covered with branches and skins, sometimes cloth curtains were hung over the beds. The chum was heated by a hearth laid out in the center, two transverse poles were installed above it for boilers, kettles, drying clothes, drying fish and meat. They also lived in large log yurts with a flat or conical roof made of poles and bark. Cylindrical-conical houses were borrowed from the Evens. House could be surrounded by various household outbuildings like log barns on high pillars with a gable roof and a ladder made of logs; warehouses-platforms.[1]

Housing and outbuildings

The ancient Yukaghirs were sedentary inhabitants of river valleys. Before the arrival of the Tungus tribes on their lands, the population of the vast expanse inhabited by the Yukaghirs was fairly homogeneous in their way of life, and their dwelling corresponded to this. All the diversity of the Yukaghir dwelling arises due to contacts with the peoples who came to the Yukaghir territories already in historical times.

Единственный народ, имеющий отношение к традиционному юкагирскому жилищу, с которым эти контакты велись издавна, это чукчи. Но вряд ли стали юкагиры заимствовать у чукчей конструкцию яранги вместе с кочевым образом жизни до появления в зоне тундры тунгусских племен.

The dwelling of the settled Yukaghirs was called chandal. They stopped using this type of dwelling probably quite soon after the arrival of the Russians. The remains of the chandals were found in the tundra zone. On the one hand, local Russian old-time folklore unequivocally refers the ruins of the Chandals to the Yukaghirs. On the other hand, there are no iron objects among the archaeological finds in these structures, and the wood from which they were built has traces of processing with stone tools. Judging by the economic activities of the Yukaghirs as local autochthons, they should have been sedentary in the past, and lived by fishing and hunting wild deer at river crossings.

The territory that suited the Russian settlers fed the settled Yukaghirs, too. Probably, with the arrival of the Russians, a shortage of food resources for the settled population arose quite quickly. Then the Yukaghirs changed not only their habitats, but also their way of life. They took the Evens as a model, with whom, after a long bloody struggle, the Yukaghirs managed to divide the territory, leaving them the mountainous regions, and to secure the valleys for themselves. This is confirmed by the data of local residents, descendants of Russian old-timers: "There are no Chandals in the mountains. People lived only along the channels" (Yukaghirs, 1975, p. 89).

Archaeological excavations of the Chandals began with the expedition of Captain Billings in the 1730s. They testify that the dwellings were built of driftwood and were of several types: the oldest was a cone, an open oval in plan. The supporting pillars were lined with tree trunks with their roots up. Thanks to the root weave, it was possible to arrange a smoke hole. The Chandals could have a rectangle in the plan, also unclosed.

This type of buildings could have a flat ceiling-roof, which was attached to the top of the support pillars. The living space of such a chandal was a truncated pyramid. There were usually four support pillars. Outside, the chandal roof was covered with turf. It could have been a half-earth, and not go deep into the ground. In its appearance, the late chandal resembles a holomo, a stationary dwelling to the west of the settlement of the Yukaghirs – on the territory of Taimyr. At the same time, the outlines of the ancient oval chandals resemble the traditional burial sites of Nganasans and Enets. These buildings, devoid of a doorway, are surrounded by a sled with a resting place. Given the general conservatism of the funeral rite, it can be assumed that the Taimyr ancestors of the Enets and Nganasans, together with the Yukaghirs, represented a single autochthonous culture of fishermen and hunters of wild deer. Another echo of the ancient Chandals on Taimyr is the oval chum of the Enets, where, just like in chandal, the hearth is shifted to one of the walls, which is typical for a conical dwelling with a small area.

In the Nenets language there is a word that characterizes this kind of chum: nibyaraha (нибяраха) "needle-like". Poor fishermen who did not have deer lived in such chums. Such a chum is designed for one small family. Enets in the 20th century, unlike the Nganasans, remained mostly fishermen and hunters, which brought their way of life and social structure closer to the Yukaghirs. The excavations of the chandals showed that these buildings could have a decent area, for example, 68.85 sq.m., as well as an area of an average chum size of 38.5 sq.m (Yukaghirs, 1975, p.92). Unfortunately, so far published archaeological research on this subject is not enough to imagine the structure of life of a settled Yukaghir settlement.

Жилище (нумэ), крытое корой лиственницы. С. Нелемное, 2003 г. Фото Л. Жуковой

After the Yukaghirs ceased to be sedentary, those constructions of their dwelling, which were described by V.I. Jochelson at the turn of the 19th – 20th centuries (Johelson, 2005, pp. 498-502), allow us to see two traditions that clearly separate the inhabitants of the taiga and tundra. The taiga Yukaghirs of the upper Kolyma used a conical chum. In summer they covered it with larch bark, in winter with cover made of elk or deer fur. There were two cover – upper and lower. The upper one was sewn from 4-7 skins, and the lower one from 5-10. In shape and construction, the dwelling of the taiga Yukaghirs was similar to the Even one, since the Evens were their closest "wandering" neighbors.

Старые амбары

However, if in winter fishing or summer fishing, taiga yukaghirs put a tripod-based chum, covering it with a rovduga, then during the rainy season they made a chum covered with larch bark, which was of a slightly different design: the basis was two pairs of massive poles embedded one into the other. Four smaller poles rested on them, thanks to crossbars fixed at their upper ends. 20-30 thin poles placed in a circle rested on this structure, with the exception of the doorway. These poles were fastened with 5-6 osier-bed hoops. Such a frame was covered with larch bark, which was pressed down from the outside by poles (Yukaghirs, 1975, pp.40-41).

Larch bark was also used on the roof for taiga semi-earth huts for the winter period. These huts were small log cabins made of the same larch. To the right of the entrance in the corner there is an open hearth or fireplace, or an adobe stove with a pipe made of rods coated with clay. Yukaghirs, unlike the Russian inhabitants of such huts, prefer not to close the chimney, therefore, despite the abundance of residents, there is always fresh air in them, and in the morning the temperature is the same as outside (Iohelson, 2005, p.63). These huts are usually square in plan – 3 x 3 m, their height is a little more than two meters. The roof of such dwellings was either flat or pyramidal (Historical and Ethnographic Atlas, p. 135. Jochelson writes only about flat roofs).

The nomadic dwelling of tundra Yukaghirs in shape and design refers to cylindrical-conical structures – like portable dwellings of Chukchi and Koryaks, however, it has its own striking features characteristic only of tundra Yukaghirs. In addition to the Nizhnekolymsk region, similar structures existed in the lower reaches of the Indigirka, among the population that had Yukaghir origin in its composition.

The winter dwelling, like a stationary chandal, had four support poles, not three, as in the Koryak-Chukchi yarang or chum. They dug into the ground. At the top of one of them there was an extension with a hole into which another pole was inserted. Two other support poles were placed on the resulting fork. They were placed at an acute angle to the first two, since they also served as supports for two doors. The doors were located opposite each other, this also manifested the peculiarity of the Yukaghir dwelling, both summer and winter.

The roof was arranged like the roof of a yaranga, with thin poles, whose top turned out to be in a fork, and the wide bottom had an opening and through it was tied to poles lying horizontally on tripods, which represented the walls. Another feature of the roof of the Yukaghir chum, unlike the yaranga, was the absence of internal T-shaped struts that arched the roof like a bubble, bringing it closer to the hemisphere. The spacers probably appeared due to the severe winds characteristic of Kamchatka and Chukotka, and the hemisphere is more streamlined than the cone. In the lower reaches of the Kolyma, where the Yukaghir chum was widespread, the winds were weaker and special struts were not required here, especially since tundra yukaghirs wintered in the forest zone.

The walls of the Yukaghir chum were arranged from tripods like yaranga. However, there are two variants of walls for the Yukaghir construction, at least, different sources cite one or the other variant. The first variant is that the design of the walls completely coincides with the yaranga tripods (Kreinovich, 1972, p.69). This is a stable option, but it eats up the interior space, since the tripods are located inside the room and horizontal poles are already attached to them at the top in the forks. The second variant is purely Yukaghir: the tripod unfolds like a fan, – two legs stand on the ground, and the third becomes a crossbar connecting it with the next tripod (Historical and Ethnographic Atlas, pp.212–213. - Here these constructions are designated as Even, but this is still probably a borrowing from the Yukaghirs). This is a less stable option, but more spacious, since the tripods unfold in a plane, not in volume.

The cover of the winter Yukaghir chum were laid on the roof in four layers, if possible. The lowest and small in size, sewn from different pieces of leather, is for protection from fire and sparks. The rest of the covers covered the entire roof, hanging on the walls – the next one was also leather, a summer cover was superimposed on it, and a tire sewn from freshly made smoked reindeer skins was laid outside. The walls were made of a single layer of two pairs of roof covers – from the entrance to the entrance on each side. From above, covers were laid on the lower part of the roof, and from below they crept along the ground for half a meter or longer. Snow piles half a man's height adjoined the walls from the outside.

The door was made of deerskin with fur inside. It was attached on leather straps to the support pillars under the roof covers. From below, a massive stump of wood was placed under it – as a doorstep. The interior of the nomadic dwelling of tundra Yukaghirs, despite the external similarity of its design with the yaranga, was closer to the chum: it did not have fur canopies with its own lighting and heating system, which, in fact, represented a place of human habitation. Tree trunks were laid on the earthen floor 2-3 m from the walls – they were fixed with pegs driven into the ground. Behind each trunk there was a separate family. Beds were laid between the trunks and the wall. At first, dry branches knee-high were thrown into this space, the rods of the osier-bed were laid on them, and everything was covered with deer skins.


The hearth resembled an open square wooden box, completely covered with earth. Its height was the same as the height of the beds in order for the heat from the fire to spread over them. Two parallel poles hung above the hearth at a height slightly above human height. They were attached to the support pillars. On them, like sleepers on rails, lay several crossbars. Hooks were attached to these crossbars, on which boilers and kettles were hung over the fire. Such a device is also characteristic more for the chum than for the yaranga.

Another detail of the interior, characteristic of the Yukaghir chum with its two entrances opposite each other and a corresponding draft, is leather screens being built on both sides of the entrance. Next to the support pillar, but perpendicular to the ground, a thick pole with a height of a man was dug in. Its upper end was tied to a support pillar. One edge of the skin was attached to it with straps, and the other edge was tied to the nearest tripod.

Since the Yukaghir chum had two entrances dividing the dwelling into two equal parts, up to four families could live in it. These families took turns using the hearth for cooking, but ate one side separately from the other. Each family had its own boiler. The consequence of this organization of space was the absence of a sacred place opposite the entrance, characteristic of the chum. However, there was a prohibition for women to pass between the hearth and the head of the house (Yukaghirs, 1975, p.49).

The chum was erected by women. It was believed that only a woman knows how high the chum should be. The men only provided the material, laid logs for the beds and (oddly enough) installed a hearth. If in an ordinary chum with one entrance, the sacred places were divided into a female area (hearth) and a male (behind the hearth), Yukaghirs had them merge in the hearth area. This highlights the custom of feeding the fire, which was performed by both men and women. Then it becomes clear why in the Yukaghir tradition the hearth was built by men. Despite the many specific differences between the tundra Yukaghirs' dwelling and the Koryak-Chukchi yaranga, which did not develop overnight, but had a long past, the Yukaghirs consider the conical chum with the same four supporting pillars to be their ancient dwelling (Yukaghirs, 1975, p. 65). Probably, during the forced transition to nomadic life, the chandal was first taken as a model, and only after a certain period of time the conical chum was replaced by the Chukchi design.

After the spring migration to the north, support poles, a hearth and logs for beds were left in place. If no one died there, then by the next winter they returned there. Having reached the north, to the border of the forest, the families who wintered together scattered. In migrations from the border of the forest to the summer parking lot, a small conical chum with one entrance was put up, also having four, not three support pillars, called in Yakut urasa (ураса). Unlike the winter dwelling, urasa had a floor made of osier-bed mats, which were made when leaving the forest. On long-term parking lots, urasa was used as a smokehouse for skins and fish: all things were taken out of it, the door and smoke holes were closed, a smoldering fire was maintained inside for 5-7 days.

The difference between the Even and Yukaghir traditional dwelling can be traced in the grave structures of the tundra zone, symbolizing the dwelling of the deceased: if it was customary for the Evens to leave a support tripod, then the Yukaghirs put four support poles (Yukaghirs, 1975, p.67).

Summer chum

Стойбище в тундре

The summer chum of yukaghir had a special design, which was preserved in the 1950s among the population of the lower reaches of the Indigirka, who belonged to the Evens (Gurvich, 1963, pp.90-93). The name of chum – бои – is of non-Yukaghir origin, in Even means "upper roof covers of the chum" (Yukaghirs, 1975, p.65). However, a similar dwelling was described in the same years by the Yukaghir old men of the lower reaches of the Kolyma (Kreinovich, 1972, pp.83-84). In its main details, the summer chum has similarities with the winter chum described above, it can even be described as a "half-disassembled" Yukaghir winter chum.

So instead of four support pillars, only two were used in it. They were placed at a slight angle, but were not fastened to each other directly, since they were separated by more than a meter and a half. There was a hearth between them, and therefore they were connected by two horizontal poles: one hearth, and the second at a height of two meters as a roof ridge. On this pole, two crossbars crossed, which connected this structure with two belts of tripods that defined the walls of the yaranga. Since the summer yaranga, like the winter one, had two entrances, its outline in the plan formed an ellipse. The covers were two panels for half of a chum each. The side edges had belt ties that connected them to each other, and at the upper corners – with two support pillars. At the bottom of the panels there were loops for pegs.

Transshipment sites were of particular importance in the seasonal routes of tundra yukaghirs. They emphasize the condition of yukaghirs, who had only few deer, that is, the problem of transporting household goods. Some of the things and food supplies that were not needed in the current season were left at these parking lots. A well-thought-out system of transshipment sites confirms the traditional minimum of deer in the Yukaghir farm. On the other hand, old people and children lived there in the summer, fishing. The permanent construction of transshipment sites were warehouses. They were a platform on four pillars, fastened with four crossbeams, on which a deck of poles was laid. Clothes were stored here – summer clothes were left in autumn, and winter clothes were left in late spring. To do this, it was dried and wrapped in smoked leather. A similar platform was built in the forest for winter fishing in order to protect the skin and meat of the killed elk from animals and birds.

Such a platform was built high – four trees growing close were chosen. The tops were cut down from them and cleaned of bark. At the top of each trunk, a cutting was made for two crossbeams, and cuttings were also made at their ends. The ends of the trees and crossbars were firmly tied with belts. A flooring made of thick poles or scaffolds was placed on the crossbars. A ladder was made for the platform – a log with notches. A sloping deck was attached to the platform as a roof. The trees around were cut down so that it was impossible to jump on the platform from above.

In addition to the permanent platforms-warehouses, seasonal glaciers were arranged at the transshipment sites in late autumn to store the extracted food – fish, meat and poultry. They were built on the surface of a frozen puddle. To do this, waist-high ice slabs were cut down from a nearby reservoir. The walls of such slabs could reach a length of up to ten meters. When the glacier was filled, it was covered with ice slabs, in which holes were made for ventilation. The seams were tightly clogged with snow and soaked with water. Food was stored in glaciers until spring. In the spring, expeditions were sent for her from the winter camp, simultaneously throwing firewood from the forest to the parking lot. By summer, if there were supplies left there, they were transferred to the permafrost cellars located there, but in winter the food in them spoiled, so glaciers were arranged.

N. V. Pluzhnikov
(from the book “Peoples of the North-East of Russia”).