Identification: Sorting Decisions and Analytic Consequences

  • Diane Gifford-Gonzalez


This chapter takes up a matter insufficiently discussed in zooarchaeology: how analysts make decisions about specimen identifiability, both in terms of osteological and of taxonomic identification. This chapter explores the relationship of these two planes of identifiability, citing some key discussions in the literature, and presents an overview with examples of the many factors that can affect specimen identification. Specimens with high osteological but lower taxonomic identifiability are essential to studying human carcass processing, and even nonidentifable specimens are useful in such research. Entire body segments may actually be referred to this category due human processing directed toward them, which means such “minimally identifiable” specimens must be identified, if one wishes to address selective transport systematically. This chapter cites recommendations on communicating novel taxonomic identifications and discusses an inter-analyst agreement experiment that reports good analyst concordance with highly fragmented mammal bones. The chapter offers an example from my own field experience of circumstances that may require an analyst to flexibly alter their identification practices, in effect triaging an archaeofaunal sample to attain the project’s highest priority goals.


Identification Identifiability Fragmentation Inter-analyst blind tests Protocols 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diane Gifford-Gonzalez
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta CruzUSA

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