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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 July 2020

Patrick M. Lubinski
Department of Anthropology, Central Washington University, 400 East University Way, Ellensburg, WA 98926-7544, USA
R. Lee Lyman
Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, 112 Swallow Hall, Columbia, MO 65211, USA
Matthew P. Johnson
Cultural & Environmental Resource Management Program, Central Washington University, 400 East University Way, Ellensburg, WA 98926-7544, USA
E-mail address:


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.

La identificación taxonómica de la arqueofauna se basa en técnicas y rasgos anatómicos que deberían ser válidos, confiables y utilizables, pero que rara vez se prueban en la práctica. Sostenemos que los protocolos de identificación (técnicas y rasgos anatómicos), particularmente aquellos utilizados para distinguir taxones de tamaño y morfología similares, deben estar sujetos a pruebas rigurosas para garantizar una base interpretativa sólida. Tres analistas realizaron pruebas a ciegas de un protocolo propuesto recientemente para identificar huesos estilohioides de artiodactilos de América del Norte que emplearon de forma independiente el protocolo para identificar 77 especímenes anatómicamente completos de identidad taxonómica conocida y que representan 54 individuos y 11 especies. Las identificaciones fueron idénticas en el 89% de los casos y en conflicto en el 3% de los casos. El resto involucraba diferencias en la resolución; dos de nosotros identificamos especímenes de especies, mientras que el tercero identificó especímenes de grupos taxonómicos más generales. La variabilidad entre analistas en la identificación fue el resultado de diferencias en la aplicación del protocolo. Las identificaciones fueron consistentes con el taxón conocido en el 92%–96% de los casos. Los resultados indican que el protocolo es válido, confiable y utilizable, y puede aplicarse a especímenes arqueológicos con confianza. Se alienta la prueba de otros criterios de identificación empleados por los zooarqueólogos.

Copyright © 2020 by the Society for American Archaeology

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