Skip to main content

ZooArchNet connects zooarchaeological specimens to biodiversity and archaeological data networks

Ancient traces of this footprint can be found in animal bones, shells, scales and antlers at archaeological sites. Together, these specimens tell the millennia-long story of how humans have hunted, domesticated and transported animals, altered landscapes and responded to environmental changes such as shifting temperatures and sea levels.

The human environmental footprint is not only deep, but old. Now, that story is available digitally through a new open-access data platform known as ZooArchNet, which links records of animals across biological and archaeological databases.

Dlium ZooArchNet connects zooarchaeological specimens to biodiversity and archaeological data networks

Making these specimen records accessible digitally helps provide a long-term perspective on current biodiversity crises, such as animal extinction and habitat loss, and could lead to more informed conservation policies, said Michelle LeFebvre, postdoctoral associate at the Florida Museum of Natural History and lead author of a study introducing ZooArchNet.

"If we're interested in really understanding the long history of human-animal interactions and environmental change, these records are key. They fill a gap between paleontological and modern records and reconstruct biodiversity baselines from the earliest periods of human history," she said.

Zooarchaeological specimens, which can range from a carved bone pin to a shell fragment from a heap of discarded oysters, provide both biologically and culturally important information, said LeFebvre.

ZooArchNet connects the biological data for these ancient animal specimens in VertNet and other biodiversity databases with their associated archaeological information in cultural databases such as Open Context.

Robert Guralnick, co-principal investigator of ZooArchNet and Florida Museum associate curator of bioinformatics, said the platform's goal is "not to be 'yet another data portal,' but a connector across disciplines. In that way, ZooArchNet is more of a bridge than anything else, but it does that bridging in a formal way to make data work."

This interdisciplinary connection will enable data-rich biodiversity research essential for understanding humans' widespread impact on the environment, said Kitty Emery, co-principal investigator of ZooArchNet and Florida Museum associate curator of environmental archaeology.

"We often think that our dramatic influence on the natural world is a modern phenomenon, but in reality, humans have shaped the environment for hundreds of thousands of years," Emery said.

"Factoring that history into current studies of biodiversity can provide ancient lessons about how and why people make certain decisions about using their environment. Why do people hunt some animals to extinction and domesticate others? What motivates them to shift from sustainable environmental uses to ones that decimate landscapes? The human component provides that side of the equation—an essential piece of the puzzle when trying to solve modern environmental problems," she said.

As conservation groups prioritize species on the brink, zooarchaeological records can offer insights into where animals lived in the past, how their distribution has shifted, what roles people may have played in their movements and how close relationships between people and domesticated animals have evolved over time. Sometimes these records tell a surprising story, LeFebvre said.

Her work with historical records of hutia, Caribbean rodents that resemble small capybaras, shows that indigenous people transported some of these animals to new islands, expanding their range into areas where they had not lived previously. These records can lead to better-informed conservation of hutia, several species of which are currently vulnerable to extinction or in danger of disappearing from certain islands, LeFebvre said.

Dlium.com ZooArchNet connects zooarchaeological specimens to biodiversity and archaeological data networks

"When you see people saying, 'This critter is native to this island chain,' these records help us say, 'Actually, it was human-introduced and we should think about what that may mean for conservation efforts over time. Zooarchaeological specimens really contribute to what we conceptualize as natural distributions," she said.

Zooarchaeological specimens can also provide insights into how, when and why humans domesticated animals in the distant past. Research by Emery and her colleague Erin Thornton of Washington State University on the earliest uses of the Mexican domesticated turkey, the ancestor of modern domestic turkeys, highlights how motivations for raising animals can change over time.

"Our recent work suggests that these birds were first domesticated for their feathers and symbolic links to power and prestige, rather than as a source of food," she said.

Archaeology can also illuminate how people contended with challenges such as rising sea levels and fluctuating temperatures in the past. Ongoing work by LeFebvre and Neill Wallis, Florida Museum associate curator of archaeology, shows that the diet of people on Florida's Gulf Coast transitioned from freshwater to marine food sources as the climate cooled 1,400 years ago.

"Humans have dealt with climate change in the past, though not at the same scale of devastation we're facing now. Reconstructing their responses provides us with a critical perspective. Where did people go? What changes in animals and plants happened in the past that we can anticipate happening again? We have a long human record that we can look back to and model off of," LeFebvre said.

One of the steps in the creation of ZooArchNet was designing protocols to standardize and publish zooarchaeological data in ways that both biodiversity and archaeological researchers could use, Emery said.

"Zooarchaeologists have been getting data out there, but until now, the data have not been discoverable, searchable and usable in an open-access way by the larger biological research community. ZooArchNet allows zooarchaeological data to be part of the massive interdisciplinary movement toward biodiversity data sharing and accessibility while preserving the human component of how life on Earth has changed," she said.

LeFebvre said that making zooarchaeological data discoverable via ZooArchNet means "the sky's the limit" for new types of interdisciplinary collaborations and research questions.

"If we want to conduct studies that will help inform policy, the data need to be open to all kinds of minds and disciplines. That's the contribution I'm most excited to be a part of. That's bigger than any one discipline or research community—that's huge."

Journal : Michelle J. LeFebvre et al. ZooArchNet: Connecting zooarchaeological specimens to the biodiversity and archaeology data networks, PLOS ONE, April 12, 2019, DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0215369

Comments

Popular

Salak (Salacca zalacca)

Salak or snake fruit (Salacca zalacca) is a species of palm plant in Arecaceae, dioesis, shrubs and not trunked, has many thorns, many shoots, grows into dense and strong clumps, spreads below or above the ground, often branching and 10-15 cm diameter.

S. zalacca has compound leaves, pinnate and 3-7 m long. Petiole, midrib and sapling have many long thorns, thin spines and a blackish-gray color. Minor leaves have a lanceolate shape, a pointed tip, 8x85 cm and a white underside by a waxy coating.


The flowers in the cob are compound, appear in the armpit of the leaf, stem, initially covered by a sheath then dry and break down like fibers. Male flowers 50-100 cm long, 4-12 cylindrical items, 7-15 cm long, reddish in the armpits of tightly arranged scales. Female flowers 20-30 cm long, stemmed long and 1-3 items.

The fruit has scaly skin, is eaten and is known as a table fruit, triangular shaped rather rounded or inverted ovoid, pointed at the base and rounded at the tip, 2.5-10 cm long, w…

God is tools

God and spirit are controversial discussions in science and even mythology will have no place among naturalists and for Darwinians. Apparently this has been final that mythology is a delusional, mystical and superstitious concept that cannot be empirically proven in the world of science.

Most scientists and science activists have agreed that god is nonsense, delusional and cannot be accommodated in the theory of evolution. This opinion can be understood methodologically and I agree with the sentences. But so many behaviors are very real and occur in the field.


I am a fieldman who goes to the wild every day, along rice fields and forests to watch insects to plants, talk to people especially in villages, visit Hindu-Buddhist temples built in the 8th century, witnessing busyness in mosques, temples and churches.

I feel something is missing in the view of naturalists and Darwinians. There are short moments that are missed in analyzes in the timeline of human evolution. These little moment…

Coffee (Coffea arabica)

Kopi gunung or mountain coffee or arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) is a plant species in Rubacea, up to 9 meters high, growing at an altitude above 700 meters above sea level, one of the most economically valuable plantation commodities among other plants.

C. arabica generally blooms after 2 years of age. Adult flowers pollinate with the opening of the petals and crown that will develop into fruit. Green skin will turn yellow and dark red with maturation. The entire process to harvest takes 6-8 months.


Flowers bloom at the beginning of the dry season and the fruit is ready to be picked at the end of the dry season. Primary branches will elongate and form new leaves at the beginning of the rainy season and prepare to produce flowers at the beginning of the upcoming dry season. The main stem has segments where a pair of opposite leaves grow.

Leaves have a line in the middle and lines to the side following the bone, wavy, thick green, muscular and tapered at the tip. The leaves grow and ar…

Chayote (Sechium edule)

Labu siam or jipang or mirliton squash or chayote (Sechium edule) is a plant species in Cucurbitaceae, growing vines and generally upwards, widely planted as food and a source of vitamin C where fresh fruit for salads or lightly cooked to remove sap.

S. edule grows on the ground or climbs large trees up to 12 m high, stems are green, not woody and are usually cultivated anywhere as long as they have support. The ends of the stems are threaded to reach support or link themselves.


The leaves are oval, 10-25 cm wide, have many angles as the bones depend on variety and the surface has hair. Male flowers in groups and solitary female flowers, yellowish green, four or five petals and pistils in the middle.

The fruit hangs on the stem, is irregular in egg shape, slightly flattened and has rough wrinkles, 10-20 cm long, green or yellow, has a thin skin, white insides with a single hole, large and flat. Some varieties have thorny skin.

The fruit is boiled briefly to remove sap and eaten for a v…

Crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis)

Crab-eating macaque or long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) is a primate species in Cercopithecidae, brown with a lighter color abdomen and whitish hair on the face, polygamy, genome size 2946.84 Mb, 21 pairs of chromosomes, highly adaptive and wild animals that are able to follow human civilization.

M. fascicularis has at least 10 recorded subspecies: Dark-crowned long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis ssp. atriceps), Burmese long-talied macaque (Macaca fascicularis ssp. aureus), Con Song long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis ssp. condorensisis).



Common long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis ssp. fascicularis), Simeulue long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis ssp. fuscus), Kemujan long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis ssp. karimondjawae), Lasia long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis ssp. lasiae)

Philippine long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis ssp. philippensis), Maratua long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis ssp. tua), Nicobar crabeating macaque (Macaca fascic…