The Ket people of Siberia
The Kets are an indigenous people who live in Siberia and are regarded to be one of the smallest ethnic groups in that region. Their appearance, language and traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle has scientists bewildered by their origins, with some proposing links to the native tribes of North America. There is even a Ket folklore that they came from space. What might be the true origin of these seemingly out of place people?

Ket People Settle in Siberia

The word 'Ket' may be translated to mean 'person' or 'man' and is the modern name of this particular Siberian ethnic group. Prior to this, however, they were known as the Ostyak, or the Yenisei-Ostyak (which is a Turkic word meaning 'stranger'), which is a reflection of the area where they lived. The Ket originally settled in the middle and lower basin of the Yenisei River, which is located in the present day Krasnoyarsk Krai of Russian federal district of Siberia.

They traditionally had a nomadic existence, hunting and trading fur from animals such as squirrel, fox, deer, hare and bear with Russian traders. They built tents from wood, birch bark and pelts and would breed reindeer and fish from canoes. Many of these activities are practiced to this day.
Boats of the Yenisei-Ostiaks
© Public Domain
Boats of the Yenisei-Ostiaks preparing to start from Sumarokova.
Whilst the Ket population has been remarkably stable during the 20th century, remaining at around 1000 members, there has been a gradual decline in the number of native speakers of the Ket language. This language is unique, as it is considered to be a 'living linguistic fossil'. Linguistic studies conducted on the Ket language have led to the theory that these people are somehow related to certain Native American tribes of North America, and that the latter had migrated from Siberia many millennia ago.

Ket Folklore

According to one Ket legend, the Kets were aliens who came from the stars. Another legend states that the Kets originally settled in the southern part of Siberia, either in the area around the Altai and Sayan Mountains, or between Mongolia and Lake Baikal. The arrival of invaders in the area, however, forced the Kets to flee to the Siberian taiga in the north. The legends state that these invaders were the Tystad, or 'stone people', who may have been some of the peoples who formed the early steppe confederations of the Huns. It has also been suggested that these peoples were nomadic reindeer pastoralists and horse herders.

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