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Siberia, in the word's broadest meaning, is a part of Russia that extends geographically from the northeastern Pacific coast of the Asian continent west to the Ural Mountains, and from the coast of the Arctic Ocean south to northern Kazakhstan and the borders of China and Mongolia. At 13.1 million sq. km (5 million sq. miles), it comprises 77% of the area of the Russian Federation and takes in virtually all of northern Asia. (Also see the article on the Russian Far East.)

The average population density of Siberia is about 3 persons per square kilometer, and 70% of its population now lives in urban centres, the largest of which is Novosibirsk with a population of 1.5 million.

This vast land remained largely unexplored and uninhabited except by small indigenous nomadic tribes until well into the nineteenth century. The watershed event in the development of Siberia was the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1891-1903. Siberia is rich in natural resources and minerals but its population and development have been severely limited by the harshness of its climate. Winter temperatures can sometimes descend below minus 68 Celsius (minus 90 F.); lakes, rivers and waterways remain frozen for much of the year.

Extensive plains are swept by severe blizzard conditions and there are huge tracts of faceless boreal forest or taiga. It is a land suited only to nomadic hunters, which is exactly the situation of most of the indigenous tribes of Siberia. For winter transport these peoples had only two options: reindeer or dogsled. As a result, a pan-Siberian population of native sleddogs developed, the true extent of which was probably never known. Subjected for many centuries, perhaps millennia, to the harshest kind of natural selection as well as severe culling by native peoples, this population at its nineteenth century peak may well have been the greatest landrace working dog population in existence. (Fans of der deutsche Schäferhund - the German Shepherd Dog - are free to start their own wiki!)


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