Research Article: ZooArchNet: Connecting zooarchaeological specimens to the biodiversity and archaeology data networks

Date Published: April 12, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Michelle J. LeFebvre, Laura Brenskelle, John Wieczorek, Sarah Whitcher Kansa, Eric C. Kansa, Neill J. Wallis, Jessica N. King, Kitty F. Emery, Robert Guralnick, Sergi Lozano.


Interdisciplinary collaborations and data sharing are essential to addressing the long history of human-environmental interactions underlying the modern biodiversity crisis. Such collaborations are increasingly facilitated by, and dependent upon, sharing open access data from a variety of disciplinary communities and data sources, including those within biology, paleontology, and archaeology. Significant advances in biodiversity open data sharing have focused on neontological and paleontological specimen records, making available over a billion records through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. But to date, less effort has been placed on the integration of important archaeological sources of biodiversity, such as zooarchaeological specimens. Zooarchaeological specimens are rich with both biological and cultural heritage data documenting nearly all phases of human interaction with animals and the surrounding environment through time, filling a critical gap between paleontological and neontological sources of data within biodiversity networks. Here we describe technical advances for mobilizing zooarchaeological specimen-specific biological and cultural data. In particular, we demonstrate adaptations in the workflow used by biodiversity publisher VertNet to mobilize Darwin Core formatted zooarchaeological data to the GBIF network. We also show how a linked open data approach can be used to connect existing biodiversity publishing mechanisms with archaeoinformatics publishing mechanisms through collaboration with the Open Context platform. Examples of ZooArchNet published datasets are used to show the efficacy of creating this critically needed bridge between biological and archaeological sources of open access data. These technical advances and efforts to support data publication are placed in the larger context of ZooarchNet, a new project meant to build community around new approaches to interconnect zoorchaeological data and knowledge across disciplines.

Partial Text

Interdisciplinary collaborations hold the key to addressing the complex human-environmental relationship and its influence on biodiversity at broad spatial, temporal, and cultural scales [1–6]. Catalytic in supporting such collaborations has been recent growth in open sharing of biodiversity data, including that from modern (neontological) through deep time (paleontological) specimens, as well as the networks and tools for accessing and interpreting these data. Key efforts to mobilize biodiversity data have made available over a billion specimen records in a global network of data publishing/access platforms linked through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF; Equally important has been the community development of standards (e.g., Darwin Core [7]) and integration tools (e.g., IPT [8]) to encourage compilations of biodiversity knowledge (e.g., the Map of Life [9]) for global research efforts. The biodiversity data network provides rich digitally-accessible content, typically over broad spatial extents, and increasingly, over broad time scales, that can feed into modeling frameworks capable of documenting human interactions with the environment from the earliest periods of our history [10,11].

ZooArchNet provides a novel workflow and platform for publishing zooarchaeological records to global distributed biodiversity data networks with intact integrated and linked archaeological information. Zooarchaeological data is sometimes already published in paleo- and biodiversity repositories, but in most cases, these records are disconnected from the cultural and methodological content needed for proper interpretation. Conversely, when biological data is published through archaeological platforms, the rich information about biodiversity samples are often also not fully available. However, current practice of sundering zooarchaeological records into “biodiversity records” or “archaeological records” is not an inevitable consequence of publishing records in a particular format or for a particular user-base. Rather, it has been due to lack of collaborative work to tackle the very real challenges of redefining the use of existing but very different standards and infrastructure to report needed data, and the challenge of connecting methods and research questions across disciplinary divides. Underappreciated is the fact that standards and data repositories can be a means to close rather than widen those divides, by recognizing common languages, creating ways to share those languages and to develop alignments between different languages, and fostering new ways to re-use data to meet common and discipline specific goals.