Although the ancient archaeological record shows pastoral nomadism to have been the economic practice in the region, the local population later made the transition to the sedentary occupation of tilling the soil and raising livestock, predominately bovines. The transition to village life, raising cereal grains and livestock, took place in recent centuries, chiefly by acculturation. The appearance of Russian peasants in the region during the nineteenth century accelerated and intensified this process. Thus, beekeeping in the northern parts of the Altai region was introduced by the Russians, who also introduced the iron plow; Before that, the Altaians mainly used the wooden plow and the hoe or mattock.
Nevertheless, some seminomadism, particularly in the southern parts of the Altai region, persisted into the twentieth century. In the 1920s and 1930s land was collectivized and the nomadic and seminomadic life-style was transformed into a settled one. By 1937, 93 percent of the Altai population was settled. Nomadic and seminomadic forms of livestock breeding, however, did not disappear even then. The raising of livestock, especially in the southeast part of the Altai, is based on a pasturing system, with migration according to season or pasture. The principal cereal grains of the Altaians in the pre-Soviet period were barley and, to some extent, wheat and rye. The products of the cereal grains were ground into meal at home. The cereals together with the products of livestock (i.e., milk of the cattle and meat of their domesticated stock), supplemented by the products of hunting and fishing, constituted their diet.
Industrial Arts. Leather from the hides of the stock and furs of the local wild animals provided clothing. The Chelkans and the Kumandins engaged in wool weaving to some degree, and all the villages processed hides, furs, and felt. The forests provided wood for housing, fire, and the implements of labor, such as plows, horse saddles, and tool handles. The products of livestock rearing from a personal herd are still prepared according to ancient nomadic methods. In the summer Altaians prepare butter, various kinds of cheese, dried curds, etc., from the milk. The processing and working of pelts for the preparation of clothing, boots, and harnesses remain traditional.
The products of the hunt, together with those of livestock, such as wool and felt, were traded with neighboring peoples. In the past, Altaians mined metals such as iron and gold, the trade in which was important both to the Altaians and to their neighbors.
Clothing. The national costume of the Altaians is still worn. For the most part, elderly people, herdsmen, and children wear fur overcoats, boots, and a variety of headgear. The ubiquitous round sheepskin cap with a silk tassel on top is worn year-round by Altaian men and women and by the local Russians, with whom it has also become popular.
Brides, too, maintain traditional apparel; they wear elegant, silk-covered fur coats, headdresses, and sleeveless jackets ( chegedek ) , which represent symbols of the bride's passage into the class of women.