Beyond counting sheep: a review of open data for zooarchaeological quantitative analysis
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Zooarchaeological research analyses faunal remains to explore the relationship between animal husbandry and cultural and environmental change. To further this research agenda, quantitative methods in all fields of archaeology must evolve toward better interpretations of large, aggregated data sets that can illuminate regional trends across space or time. The application of computational archaeology to zooarchaeology opens scope for the study of intra-site distribution and inter-site variability for increasingly complex data sets integrated with environmental, geographic, or temporal variables. The advent of open-source software and open data in archaeological research further allow for dissemination of large bodies of information, interdisciplinary meta-analysis, inter-analyst quality assurance, and accessible reproduction of results. With these wider opportunities also come issues and potential problems to challenge the researcher. The analysis of aggregated data sets from multiple archaeological sites, compiled by multiple specialists at different times, must include recognition of inherent biases that affect any interpretation of the faunal assemblage. This project is part of an ongoing Ph.D. thesis that examines the intensification of sheep husbandry in relation to wool production during the Medieval period in Britain, using computational and zooarchaeological methods to refine previous interpretations of economic changes. The benefits – and obstacles – of using open data sets are discussed in case studies that strive to assess trends based on the integration of complex archaeological data with statistical analysis.