Blind Testing of Faunal Identification Protocols: A Case Study with North American Artiodactyl Stylohyoids

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Anthropology and Museum Studies

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Taxonomic identification of archaeofauna relies on techniques and anatomical traits that should be valid, reliable, and usable, but which are rarely tested. Identification protocols (techniques and anatomical traits), particularly those used to distinguish taxa of similar size and morphology, should be rigorously tested to ensure a solid interpretive foundation. Blind testing of a protocol for identifying stylohyoid bones of North American artiodactyls was performed by three analysts who independently employed the protocol to identify 77 anatomically complete specimens of known taxonomic identity, representing 54 individuals and 11 species. Identifications were identical in 89% of cases and in conflict in 3% of cases. The remainder involved differences in resolution; two analysts identified specimens to species, whereas the third identified specimens to more general taxonomic groups. Inter-analyst variability in identification was a result of differences in protocol application. Identifications were consistent with known taxon in 92%–96% of cases. Results indicate that the protocol is valid, reliable, and usable, and it can be applied to archaeological specimens with confidence. Testing of other identification criteria employed by zooarchaeologists is encouraged.


This article was originally published in American Antiquity . The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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American Antiquity


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