Some interesting papers so far

I’ve heard a number of interesting papers so far.  A bunch of them were in a session on digital archaeozoology.  I find this interesting in part because I live and work in a remote area with limited research resources on hand, although for the size of the place they are truly exceptional. A number of highlights from the session below:

1)  A paper by Matt Law on zooarch on the Internet.  He’d done a survey of on-line arch data archives. People often use them heavily, but so far are not good contributors. People still see on-line publication as less prestigious (which is a problem if they are working toward tenure), but most would still be willing to participate if the process were straightforward enough.

2)  A paper by Isabelle Baly & others about a big national database (INPN) the French are building of data on plants and animals from archaeological sites. Much of the data they are including comes from salvage and compliance excavations, which often don’t get published. This is a huge amount of work to pull together (especially with the staff of three that they have!), but it lets people do analyses which they could never afford to do otherwise. It seems to be available through a public website, which will let students and members of the public see and use the data themselves, which is pretty cool.

3)  A paper by Jill Weber and Evan Malone about a set (30+) of skeletons of equine hybrids between donkey and onager, which are currently a unique sample. These are thought to be the Syrian Royal Ass, the Kunga, which was actually the Animal of the Year in Syria a few years ago. The problem was how to be able to preserve & share these bones, and study them without damage to the originals. Answer–3D laser scanning & “printing” them.  3D printing actually makes a replica of the item, and is very cool technology.   Depending on the budget, the replicas can be very good.  The scanned models in the computer are actually even better for doing measurements on ( something we do a lot in zooarchaeology) than real bones in some cases.

4)  A paper by Katherine Spielmann and Keith Kintigh on the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR).  TDAR is a large-scale data archiving and integration tool, developed at Arizona State University.  The impetus was that a lot of archaeologists there had data  that they were interested in comparing, in order to look at things across a broader area than any of them had studied individually, but were stymied by differences in the way that their data was stored.  They are trying to develop an integration tool and data warehouse.  I haven’t tried it, but it seems interesting.

5)  A paper by Matt Betts, and a number of others about the Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic Project (VZAP) –very cool 3D models of Arctic (and subarctic, since ISU has been working in the Aleutians/Lower Alaska Peninsula area under Herb Maschner for years, and that’s what they see most of) fauna.  The bones are accessed through a very neat visual database interface, which lets you look for bones by species or by skeletal element (part of the body), which is the most common way to find things when identifying unknown bones.  Often you can see you have a femur (thighbone) for example, but aren’t sure what animal it’s from.  The best physical comparative collections of bones actually have a set of femurs you can look at, rather than having to go to a bunch of skeletons and find the femur.  I’ve used this one, and it’s handy.  As more species get added, it will only become more useful.