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Weighing vs. Counting: Measurement Reliability and the California School of Midden Analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Roger D. Mason
Affiliation:
Chambers Group, Irvine, CA 92614
Mark L. Peterson
Affiliation:
Peterson and Associates, Irvine, CA 92612
Joseph A. Tiffany
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011

Abstract

The California School of Midden Analysis represents a long-standing tradition of using weight, rather than minimum number of individuals (MNI), to analyze shell recovered from archaeological sites in California. This method originated at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early twentieth century and continues to the present, in spite of the advent of counting measures such as MNI and NISP (number of identified specimens) in faunal studies. We argue that MNI estimates are more reliable than weight as a measure of taxonomic abundance for most research issues being addressed with California shell data. Examples using both weight and MNI measures for shell from California coastal sites produced divergent results. This disparity shows that weight measures produce potentially misleading interpretations regarding the importance of marine habitats exploited and the diet of the site’s occupants.

Résumé

Résumé

“California School of Midden Analysis” representa una tradition antigua de usar peso, en vez del número mínimo de individuos (NMI), para analizar caracol recobrado de sitios arqueológicos en California. Este método, originado en la Universidad de California, Berkeley, en los primeros años de este siglo, continúa hasta el presente, a pesar de la introductión NMI y NISP (número de espécimenes identificados) como opciones preferidas en estudios faumísticos. Discutimos que NMI es un medio más válido y seguro en investigaciones con datos de caracoles de California. Ejemplares de caracoles de sitios costeros de California, usando ambos métodos, producen resultados muy divergentes. Esta disparidad demuestra que el uso de peso en el andlisis produce interpretations potencialmente inválidas sobre la importancia de los habitats marítimos explotados y la dieta de los ocupantes del sitio.

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Reports
Copyright
Copyright © The Society for American Archaeology 1998

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