Identifying the accumulator: Making the most of bone surface modification data

Publication date: September 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 85
Author(s): Jessica C. Thompson, J. Tyler Faith, Naomi Cleghorn, Jamie Hodgkins
Taphonomic analysis is an essential component of zooarchaeology, but is employed in different ways within different research traditions. Within the Africanist Palaeolithic literature, there is a strong emphasis on quantitative comparison of proportions of different bone surface modifications to one another and to proportions observed on modern experimental collections. This work has been driven by debates about the taphonomic histories of Oldowan sites that document the subsistence strategies of early Homo, but this specific approach can be usefully applied to a range of contexts across many different time periods and geographic locations. One obstacle to the cross-fertilization of this taphonomic tradition with other zooarchaeological work is the restrictive manner in which data are selected from an assemblage for analysis. To ensure comparability between fossil and modern assemblages, analysts typically exclude specimens with evidence for post-depositional modification not modeled in the experimental data. Although this adds interpretive robustness, it can diminish sample size significantly, sometimes to the point of affecting statistical analyses, and results in much time invested in collecting data that ultimately are not used. Here, we describe a new method for maximizing the number of specimens that can be incorporated into analysis, thus resolving the persistent problem of poor sample sizes to make more statistically robust comparisons to actualistic datasets.