The fauna from the site of Chogha Mish, Iran, has been published on Open Context. It was released by Levent Atici, Justin Lev-Tov, and Sarah Kansa in late August. The original analysis was done by Jane Wheeler in the 60s. Honestly, I'm not certain I understand the purpose of Open Context (to get the data out there, presumably, but what else has been done or is planned to be done with this information? who can use it and for what?) That information may be on the webpage, I haven't looked yet.
I'm of two minds about publishing raw faunal data on the web. My major concern is that archaeologists who are not themselves zooarchaeologists (or people who are zoologists, ecologists, etc.), may use and interpret the data naively. For example, when I compare faunal remains from archaeological sites, I routinely compensate for problems in published analyses. An inexperienced analyst may identify multiple species of gerbils, for example, but I know there is no way those species could be told apart by skeletal material alone. I would automatically re-classify those bones as just "gerbils, in general", especially if I knew the person who did the original analysis was not particularly experienced. Nobody likes to admit this, but an unfortunate number of CRM faunal reports are done by unqualified analysts. I've done a lot of CRM myself, I'm not knocking it as a profession, but there are problems with some reports. Unfortunately, an archaeologist without specialization in zooarchaeology, who was trying to reconstruct the paleoclimate by using the habitat tolerances of those specific species of gerbils, may not realize that the data are flawed. (Quick note - I am NOT saying that the original analysis at Chogha Mish was flawed, I'm just giving an example of potential problems with on-line data dumps.)
Another potential problem is that non-zooarchaeologists often don't understand taphonomic processes, cultural filters, and other factors that skew faunal assemblages. In a previous post, I mentioned that artiodactyl remains increased through time in Ventana Cave, Arizona, due to changes in the site function (Bayham 1982). Long ago, I had a short but interesting discussion with Paul Martin (the geologist from Arizona) about the meaning of increasing artiodactyls in the archaeological record in the American West. Dr. Martin is certainly not naive about faunal data, but he was surprised by my contention that more artiodactyls in archaeological sites do not necessarily represent more artiodactyls in the surrounding landscape. Rather, I argued, the change represented a cultural filter. This is not a concept most natural scientists have been trained to consider, yet these same natural scientists may be very interested in our data.
One final complaint about the Open Context publication of Chogha Mish: I find the interface incredibly difficult. I hope it is possible to download all of this data into a more functional format (like an Excel spreadsheet), otherwise it's unusable. Again, I haven't taken the time to look at the site in detail, so maybe there is an easy way to do so.
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