Cradle of Civilizations
Siberia is part of Asia and has been the home for millennia of a variety of peoples and cultures. The lives of early Siberians were shaped by the landscape and became diverse because of it. The southern steppe produced a semi-nomadic, pastoral way of life. The forests lent themselves to the lifestyle of the hunter, some of whom migrated with reindeer between the tundra of the north and the taiga farther south. On the coasts and around the rivers Siberians fished and hunted in a landscape of abundance. We rarely think of this remarkable region as a cradle of civilizations, but Siberia is known to be the origin of the native North Americans, whose ancestors probably migrated across a land bridge to present-day Alaska before moving south through the Americas. At the same time, Siberia is Russia’s sixteenth-century “North Asian colony”. It was distant enough from Russia and sufficiently foreign to qualify as a part of the New World. But Siberia is also contiguous to Russia, which simply extended its borders outwards to embrace this new land and draw it into the Old World. Some might say that this paradox of Siberia—of being a New World within the Old—is at the heart of understanding not only its past and present, but also its future.
The origins of the name Siberia are Tartar and probably came from thirteenth-century Mongol usage. The Russians began calling the area “Siberian Land”, then simply Siberia. For our purposes, the story of Siberia begins in the Pleistocene era, a period that started some 600,000 years ago and lasted until about 10,000 years ago, during which large regions of