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Faunal Resource Depression and Intensification in the North American Southwest: Digital Data and Regional Synthesis

fossilized bones

This project employs an innovative and powerful approach to the synthesis of archaeological data to address a central research question: What is the relationship between Southwestern U.S. faunal resource procurement and demographic, social organizational and environmental change? 

Although in the past researchers have undertaken synthetic analyses at regional or sub-regional scales, these have generally been limited to the zooarchaeological data presented in summary form in the published literature. Rather than depend on published data, our syntheses will rely on analyses of an integrated composite of original faunal datasets drawn from numerous archaeological sites in the U.S. Southwest dating between roughly A.D. 1200 and 1500.

In this pilot project we will address two hypotheses, and one ancillary hypothesis:

  • Human population persistence and concentration on the landscape result in large mammal resource depression.
    • Environmental conditions affect the threshold human population values that result in resource depression.
  • There was a threshold of resource depression beyond which turkey husbandry was intensified to make up for the shortfall in access to meat.

Our approach to synthesis using the original datasets is made possible through use of tDAR (the DigitalArchaeological Record), an international repository for the digital data, images and documents produced by archaeological investigations. tDAR provides unprecedented access to large numbers of datasets and a groundbreaking analytical tool that allows the integration of datasets (or spreadsheets) that were recorded by different investigators using inconsistent analytical protocols. This integration entails transforming variables with incommensurate systematics into a shared classificatory schema. Using this tool to integrate faunal datasets allows us to address our anthropological research questions at a depth and breadth that have not heretofore been possible.

One impediment to integrated analysis of zooarchaeological data is lack of knowledge of the degree to which analyzed faunal assemblages are comparable across projects with respect to taphonomic processes and depositional contexts. In-depth taphonomic studies across datasets have rarely been undertaken because they require aligning different, but highly detailed, data collection protocols across different projects. tDAR allows the evaluation and automated establishment of this alignment.

One goal of the proposed project is to develop general protocols for the evaluation of the degree to which different faunal assemblages have undergone similar taphonomic processes, and the scale at which context must be controlled in meaningful integrated analyses.

Funding Source:  National Science Foundation

Katherine Spielmann, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Keith Kintigh, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Allen Lee, Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Tiffany Clark, Desert Archaeology, Inc.