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  Zooarchaeology and Taphonomy Consulting

ZAT Consulting offers zooarchaeological and taphonomic analysis services for assemblages recovered from both prehistoric and historic archaeological sites in the continental United Sates. All analysis is overseen by April M. Beisaw, RPA.


Upon receiving a faunal collection, an initial bag check serves to inventory the collection and to provide a preliminary assessment. A Microsoft Access database is then customized to serve as the catalog for the faunal collection. Once completed, a paper and electronic copy of the faunal catalog is provided on 3.5" diskette or CD-ROM along with the final report. The database contains many pre-programmed queries and reports to allow for reconstruction of the analyses presented in the report and for new analysis to be easily preformed.

Data Collection

Data collection proceedes by the lot number assigned by the excavators and represents the context from which a subset of material was obtained. The lot number is therefore retained in the faunal catalog however, as each lot number can contain any number of individual faunal remains, a Faunal Catalog (FC) number is assigned by the analyst to identify smaller groups of material or individual fragments. In general, all bone fragments from one lot whose FC entry would be identical are inventoried under one FC number with an appropriately augmented count.

Taxonomic and Species Identification
Minimally, each FC entry is identified to the class level. As this level of distinction is possible on virtually every bone fragment, regardless of size, it is the first level of taxonomic analysis undertaken. Species level identification, unless resulting from a complete or near complete adult skeletal element, are always tentative. For certain elements, such as ribs, species level identification is highly problematic and therefore the use of size groups usually represents the level of analysis that is possible. Size groups are also used for bone fragments that are not otherwise identifiable to the less specific family or genus levels.

Element and Side Identification
In most cases, determining the skeletal element is necessary before taxonomic identification, beyond the class level, is possible. Once the element has been identified, a determination of the side it represents, left or right, aides in the assessment of the relative completeness of an individual and in counts of the minimum numbers of individuals (MNI) present in the assemblage. Several reference diagrams are provided in the final report to illustrate the elements of those animal classes that are identified in the collection.

Age and Sex Determination
If a skeletal element is identified to the species level, assessing the age at death and sex of an individual animal can proceed. A variety of charts and tables, which are based on known populations of specific species, are consulted (e.g. Silver 1970). As a variety or environmental and cultural factors can skew these results, age determinations are to be considered estimation, within a range.

Articulation and Completeness Description
To aid in quantification of an assemblage, it is important to maintain a record of the completeness of cataloged specimens. Similarly, retaining data regarding which, if any, articulation is present allows for assessment of the certainty of age and side determinations as well as butchery patterns.

Butchery Marks
Due to the variety of data that needs to be collected for a thorough analysis of butchery marks, the standard faunal catalog contains only a general presence/absence field for butchery marks. Some additional comments, such as number of surfaces cut and notes on the presence of other cut marks, are stored in the comments field.

Comments and Counts
A comment field is included in the faunal database for three reasons: 1. to further describe the specimen(s) of a specific FC, 2. to aid in the assessment of the certainty and value of the description(s), 3. to guide secondary analyses. It should be noted that a count field for each FC is also included in the database, which, in general, should equal one. In cases where multiple mend-able fragments were cataloged, the count equals one. When multiple similar fragments whose FC entry would not have differed from each other where encountered in a given lot, one FC is assigned to the bone group and the count field was used to quantify the number of bone fragments represented by the group.

Data Analysis

Data analysis varies with assemblages and research questions but generally proceedes along three lines:1. the zooarchaeological quantification of the assemblage, 2. the utilization of database queries to assess patterns, 3. taphonomic analysis of the assemblage.

Database Queries
In general, due to the ease with which queries can be developed and executed in MS Access, only those queries which the analyst believes assists in the faunal analysis of the collection are pre-programmed.

Zooarchaeological Quantification
Number of Identifiable Specimens (NISP), also termed Total Number of Fragments (TNF), calculations are used to estimate relative abundance of species. Recent research has shown that NISP calculations are taphonomically erroneous and generally misleading. However, given NISP''s past popularity, calculations using this method are provided for the basis of comparison with previously analyzed assemblages. A degree of mending of bone fragments with recent breaks is undertaken to strengthen the usefulness of the TNF data for the assemblage. There are many additional calculations for describing faunal assemblages, such as Minimal Animal Unit (MAU), Minimum Number of Elements (MNE), and Weighted Abundance of Elements (WAE). These will be applied where applicable or upon request.

Taphonomic Analysis

Feature Interpretations and Depositional Patterns
Review of the contexts for certain subsets of the faunal assemblage will be undertaken to assess the site formation processes of the archaeological site. In particular, evidence of natural and/or cultural redeposition will be evaluated. Where applicable, suggestions for secondary artifact or ecofact analysis, which would aid in this assessment, will be made.


April M. Beisaw, Ph.D., RPA

Expertise: North American vertebrate species identification, taphonomic analysis

2007 Ph.D. Anthropology,
Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY 1998 M.A. Anthropology, Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY
1996 B.A. Anthropology/Chemistry, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

Dr. Beisaw is an independent zooarchaeologist with 13 years of experience conducting faunal analysis of prehistoric and historic assemblages from across the United States. She has experience with large-scale faunal analysis of assemblages from across the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West and Southwest United States. Dr. Beisaw’s expertise includes zooarchaeology, taphonomy, human osteology, paleoecology, and microstratigraphy. Clients have included environmental firms and academic research projects and cultural resource management companies.

Selected Experience:
Faunal Consultant, Western Cultural Resource Management (WCRM), Farmington, NM *
Faunal Analysis of the Texas Component of the AT&T Next Gen/Core Project (41CU660, 41HZ357, 41CU657, 41HZ358, 41CU664, 41EP5488, 41CU658, 41CU646, 41HZ370TXL1-S1, 41HZ573, 41HZ247, 41HZ360, 41CU653, 41CU663, and 41HZ579) * Faunal Analysis of the Arizona Component of the AT&T Next Gen/Core Project (AZ U:15:127 and 148) Faunal Analysis of the New Mexico Component of the AT&T Next Gen/Core Project (LA8055, LA128562, LA129532, LA129533, LA129548, LA129554, LA129563, LA129571, LA130723, LA130727, LA130730, LA130738, LA130741, LA130742, LA132487, LA132488, LA132489, LA132494, LA132496, LA132499, LA13502, LA132518, LA132520, LA132521, LA135296, LA135343, LA51816, LA54814, LA59652)

Faunal Consultant, Abajo Archaeology, UT * Faunal Analysis of the White Mesa Discovery Basketmaker Pit House Complex (42SA3775) *Faunal Analysis of the White Mesa 42SA22483 Site

Faunal Consultant, Alpine Archaeological Consultants, Montrose, CO *Faunal Analysis of the Hunchback Rock Shelter (42BE751) Faunal Analysis of the Hamblin (42WS1585) and Wellington (42JB388) Town Sites * Faunal Analysis of Gothic Town Hall Renovation (5GN1525) * Faunal Analysis of Provo Canyon (42WA42)

Faunal Consultant, Gibb Archaeological Consulting, Annapolis, MD * Faunal Analysis of the 1994 Belair Mansion (18PR135) Collection

Faunal Consultant, Nathan S. Lowrey, American University, Washington D.C. Preliminary faunal analysis of the Chautauqua Grounds Site (47MT71)

Faunal Consultant, Margaret Wood, Colorado Coal Field War Project, CO Faunal Analysis of the 1999 Berwind (5LA2175) Collection

Faunal Analyst, The Lost Towns Project, Annapolis, MD Faunal Analysis of Rumney’s Tavern Cellar (18AN48 F100)

Faunal Analyst, Binghamton University, NY * Faunal Analysis of the Engelbert (SUBi-300) Collection * Faunal Analysis of the 1996-1997 Thomas/Luckey (SUBi-888) Collections

Full CV available here.

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