College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

History

The Yakuts (or Sakha, as they call themselves) are a native Siberian population of nearly 400,000 that mainly live throughout the Sakha Autonomous Republic (Yakutia) of the Russian Federation.



Map of Russian Republica
 

Substantial evidence from linguistic, ethnohistorical, and archeological research indicate that the Yakuts originated from Turkic peoples from south Siberia approximately 800-1000 years ago. This evidence includes the following:

  • Along with the Dolgan people from the Taimyr Peninsula, the Yakuts are the northernmost Turkic-speaking population.
  • Yakut language is most similar to Altai and Tuvan languages spoken in the Altai-Sayan region near the Russian-Mongolian border and contains words for animals and habitats only found to the south.
  • Verses of the Olonkho, an epic poem told by the Yakut people, describes an ancestral land that resembles the topography, climate and biodiversity found in south Siberia and Central Asia.



Geographic distribution of language families (Turkic in yellow)

  • Traditional Yakut economy is based on cattle and horse breeding that is similar to the form of pastoralism practiced by various Turkic and Mongolic groups inhabiting the Asian steppes.
  • Material culture and customs has affinities to southern Turkic cultures, such as leather utensils, the preparation of kumys (fermented drink from mare’s milk), riding and pack saddles, and certain elements of their dress.
  • Archeological remains of a cattle and horse breeding population from the Lake Baikal region (10th to 13th centuries AD), the Turkic-speaking Kurykans, has strong similarities with Yakut culture based on rock paintings, riding dress and bridle decoration, social structure, burial traditions and religious practices, and ethnographic descriptions from historical texts.

The first Yakut people in Siberia likely migrated north along the Lena River, displacing and mixing with indigenous populations of Yakutia. Mongol invasions throughout Central Asia during the 11th to 13th centuries may have precipitated this migration event.


Postulated migration route of Yakut ancestors
 

Soon after Russian contact in the 1620s, the Yakuts underwent a geographic expansion beyond their homeland on the Lena in order to evade the Russian colonial regime. In contrast to many native Siberian groups that experienced large declines in population size, the Yakuts grew by almost eight times to about 227,000 from 1700 to the beginning of the twentieth century.


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