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Comparison of 1/8′ ′- and 1/4′ ′-Mesh Recovery of Controlled Samples of Small-to-

Medium-Sized Mammals
Author(s): Brian S. Shaffer and Julia L. J. Sanchez
Source: American Antiquity, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Jul., 1994), pp. 525-530
Published by: Cambridge University Press
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Brian S. Shaffer and Julia L. J. Sanchez

Most previous screen experiments have assessed various mesh-size biases in the recovery offaunal remains from
specific archaeological samples. These tests provided detailed information about recovery biases at those sites. To
augment these previous tests, Shaffer (1992) conducted ?4"-screen tests on modern comparative mammal skeletons
to assess specific biases for the taxa tested. However, because 18' screens are now widely used in archaeological
sampling, potential biases should be assessed. Results presented here document hypothetical best recovery of the
taxa tested and substantial increased recovery of mammals weighing between 18 and 340 gfor l/"-screen tests
relative to "4'-screen tests.

La mayoria de los experimentos de malla realizados hasta el presente han evaluado el sesgo que el tamano de
malla introduce en la recuperaci6n de restos de fauna presentes en muestras arqueol6gicas. Estas pruebas han
suministrado informaci6n detallada acerca de los sesgos de recuperaci6n en esas localidades. Para expandir estas
pruebas, Shaffer (1992) realiz6 experimentos con 1" de malla aplicados a esqueletos de mamiferos comparativos
modernos para evaluar los sesgos especificos de los taxa examinados. Sin embargo, ya que ahora las mallas de
18" se usan ampliamente en muestreo arqueol6gico, los sesgos potenciales se deben evaluar. Los resultados que
se presentan aqui documentan la mejor recuperaci6n hipothtica de los taxa examinados y un incremento consid-
erable en la recuperaci6n de mam[feros con peso entre 18 y 340 g para la malla de 8" relativa a las pruebas
previas con malla de "'.

Previous research on archaeological samples has determined that mesh size influences the com-
position of the faunal sample recovered (Barker 1975; Butler 1993; Casteel 1972, 1976; Clason and
Prummel 1977; DeMarcay and Steele 1986; Dye and Moore 1978; Gordon 1993:453-460; Grayson
1984:168-169; Kobori 1979; Nichol and Williams 1980; Otter 1989; Payne 1972, 1975, 1992;
Shaffer 1992; Stahl 1992:217-221; Struever 1968; Thomas 1969; Watson 1972; Wing and Quitmyer
1985:49-58). While informative, most of these reports depend on archaeological faunas of varied
composition that are subject to differing taphonomic processes that make each a unique assemblage.
Additional research documenting ?"-mesh biases was needed (Casteel 1972). Shaffer (1992) re-
searched l4-screen bias on the recovery of specific mammalian taxa under controlled circumstances.
The results of this experiment indicated that only taxa larger than 4,500 g (fox sized) will have the
potential for nearly total recovery. Typically, as the size of the animal decreased from 4,500 g, so
did its recovery.
Although the use of 1/4" mesh is common in archaeological excavations, y/8' mesh use has become
popular. As such, biases of '/8" mesh need to be assessed. To determine the extent of additional
information that could be gained by 1/8" over 1/4w screens, experimental screening was conducted on
complete skeletonized mammals. These tests clearly document the recovery of specific additional
elements for nearly all of the taxa tested.
In comparison with previous site-specific screening analyses, these tests provide information on
possible best recovery of whole bones that have not been subjected to natural taphonomic factors.
Site-specific tests reveal information about the screen sizes used relative to the site taphonomy and
formation processes. When performed at individual sites, these tests are very informative. However,
few researchers have the time or funds to first perform test excavations and have the faunal remains

BRIAN S. SHAFFER * Zooarchaeology Laboratory, Institute of Applied Sciences, University of North Texas,
P.O. Box 13078, Denton, TX 76203-6078
JULIA L. J. SANCHEZ * Department of Anthropology, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Ang
CA 90024

American Antiquity, 59(3), 1994, pp. 525-530.

Copyright ? 1994 by the Society for American Archaeology


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526 AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 59, No. 3, 1994]

Table 1. Weight and Measurements in Ascending Order by Lowest Weight.

Weight Length Femurb

Reference Numbera and Taxon (g) (mm) (mm)

1. Least shrew (Cryptotis parva) 4-7 56-64 7.0

2. Pygmy mouse (Baiomys taylori) 7-9 51-64 9.3
3. Evening bat (Nycticeius humeralis) 7-9 36-38 13.1
4. House mouse (Mus musculus) 11-22 81-86 12.2
5. Shorttail shrew (Blarina sp.)c 11-22 76-102 9.1
6. Deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) 18-35 71-102 15.1
7. Mexican pocket mouse (Liomys irroratus) 34-50 102-127 22.2
8. Kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ordii) 42-72 102-114 24.6
9. Eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus) 57-140 114-165 13.0
10. Valley pocket gopher (Thomomys bottae) 71-250 122-178 19.0
11. Wood rat (Neotoma albigula) 135-283 190-216 33.6
12. Thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tri-
demcimlineatus) 140-252 114-165 29.0
13. Red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) 198-250 178-203 40.5
14. Mexican ground squirrel (Spermophilus mexicanus) 198-340 171-190 30.4
15. Mink (Mustela vison) 198-340 228-266 54.7
16. Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) 340-726 200-250 52.2
17. Spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) 363-999 230-340 46.4
18. Cottontail (Sylvilagus auduboni) 600-1,200 300-380 65.2
19. Ringtail cat (Bassariscus astutus) 900-1,130 360-410 63.8
20. Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) 908-1,816 250-360 43.6
21. Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) 1,300-3,100 430-530 106.2
22. Red fox (Vulpesfulva) 4,500-6,700 5,600-6,300 132.6

a Thomomys sp., Sigmodon hispidus, Geomys bursarius, and Canis latrans from Shaffer (1992) were not
available for testing.
b Femur length is based on greatest length (von den Driesch 1976:84-85).
c Shaffer (1992) listed this taxon as B. brevicaua. However, the revised biogeography of Blarina indicates that
this specimen may actually be B. hylophaga (Baumgardner et al. 1992).

analyzed to assess bone fragmentation, bone size, and recovery. Due to the fact that the results
presented here are based on whole bones, which have not been subjected to taphonomic influences,
loss rates in archaeological sites will probably be greater. Both archaeological and laboratory tests,
however, are helpful in interpreting archaeological faunas. Using complete skeletons provides in-
formation on the least degree of loss from a sample. This information can be compared to archae-
ological samples to assist in demonstrating possible biases.


These '/8"-mesh screening tests duplicated methods used by Shaffer (1992:130)

closely as possible for accurate comparison. Tests were conducted on 22 of the 2
skeletons (Table 1). The taxa used in the tests were skeletally complete, disarti
with little fragmentation. All taxa were adults except the muskrat and Mex
Since original animal size and weight were not recorded for the skeletons used
measures were estimated based on averages for living individuals (Burt and Gr
The greatest length of femur of each individual was measured to give an indica
actual size (Table 1).
Each skeleton was placed in an /8s-mesh screen and shaken for 30 seconds. Recovered elements
were identified and recorded. This procedure was performed 10 times for each animal, replacing
all elements after each test. Repetition of tests allowed for verification of early results and helped
to control for variation in the aggressiveness of screen shaking in each of the tests (Shaffer 1992:
130). An element was considered to be recovered consistently if it was retrieved at least 70 percent
of the time (Table 2).

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Table 2. Results of Screening Tests on Controlled Samples with /8- and ?"-Mesh Screens. Taxa Key

Sample Number

Element 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Atlas - - - - E E E E E E E E AA EQ EQ EQ EQ
Cervical E - E E E E E E EQ EQ EQ
Thoracic E E E - E E E E EQ EQ EQ EQ
Lumbar E E E E E EQ E E EQ EQ EQ E
Sacrum - - E BB - - BB E BB BB EQ EQ BB EC EQ EQ E
Caudal -...... - E .- - -- E E E - E
Scapula - - E E - E E E E EQ EQ EQ EQ EQ EQ EQ E
Sternal segment ....-....-...-.-----------E - E
Manubrium .-.-- .- .-- .- . E E E E E E E EQ E
Rib ...- ....-....-.- .--------- E - - E
Humerus - - E - - - E E EQ E EQ E EQ EQ EQ EQ EQ
Ulna ......- E E E E E E E EQ EQ EQ EQ
Radius - - - - - E E E E E E E EQ EQ EQ E
Carpals ..........E - - - -
Metacarpals .-.-.- - _........E E E E
Pelvis with fused sacrum - ? EQ EQ - EQ EQ - - EQ
Innominate - - E - - E - EQ - - EQ EQ EQ EQ EQ EQ EQ
Femur - - - E - E E E E EQ EQ EQ EQ EQ EQ EQ EQ
Patella E
Tibia - - - E ------ E EQ E EQ EQ EQ
Fibula .-- ..-.- .- . E E E EQ EQ EQ
Tibiofibula - .---.-EE E E E E E EQ
Metatarsals ..-.- ...-...- - - - -----E- E E- E
Astragalus ...-...-...-...------- - E E EQ E E
Calcaneus -. -.-.-.--. E - - E E E EEQ E EQ E
Other tarsals .- . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Proximal phalange
Middle phalange
Distal phalange - .- ...........E
.--- .-- .- .- .- .--- E
Note: Key: A = Element not present for tests; B = sacrum was recovered, fused to the innominates; C = sacral body segm
in ?/4 tests; E = element recovered by 1/8" mesh (blocks represented by bold letters indicate recovery only by W/8' mes
= element recovered by '/8s and /4 mesh; "*" = element mistakenly recorded by Shaffer (1992:Table 2) as recovered with
by either screen size.

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528 AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 59, No. 3, 1994]


The value of 1/8" screens compared to 1/4" screens is apparent (Table 2). M
elements of smaller taxa, were recovered with the 1/8" screen. Although little
noted in the recovery of the smallest taxa (least shrew and pygmy mouse Taxa 1 and 2), additional
recovery began with the evening bat (Taxon 3) and continued as taxon size increased. Many com-
monly identifiable elements of taxa as small as 42-72 g (kangaroo-rat sized, Taxon 8) were also
Much of the additional recovery with 1/8" mesh was for taxa weighing 18-340 g (deer mouse t
mink sized, Taxa 6-15). Here, /8" mesh distinctly showed its advantages over ?/4 mesh with the
recovery of the vertebral elements, scapulae for smaller specimens, forelimbs, and many hind-l
elements. With slightly larger taxa (larger than minks, Taxon 16 and larger), ?/4 screening mis
few of the larger elements, but did miss smaller elements such as sternae, carpals, tarsals, metacarp
metatarsals, and phalanges that were usually recovered by 1/8" screening.
Even for the two largest taxa in these tests (jackrabbit and red fox, Taxa 21 and 22), 1/8" screeni
provided additional recovery of numerous elements on a consistent basis. With both animals, ca
vertebrae, carpals, patellae, sesamoids, and middle and distal phalanges were recovered. For the
jackrabbit, metacarpals, metatarsals, and tarsals (other than astragali and calcanei that were recov-
ered by 1/4" mesh) were also recovered by 1/8" screening.
Of major concern for taxonomic-identification purposes is the recovery of skulls and rami (with
associated teeth). Both screen sizes performed comparably for recovering complete skulls, although
this condition is rare in the archaeological record. Recovery of rami began consistently with the
evening bat (7-9 g, Taxon 3) for the 1/8" mesh, but 1/4" mesh did not recover rami consistently until
taxa were gopher/rat sized (71-283 g, Taxa 10 and 11).
Because the choice of screen size will have a significant impact on the size of material recovered
(Grayson 1984:168-169), understanding the biases of that mesh size are imperative for interpre-
tation. The recovery of smaller taxa is very important for environmental reconstructions and for
dietary reconstructions in those areas where small mammals were small mammals tend
to have limited ranges and are often diagnostic of their microhabitats, as they may only travel short
distances. This differs from larger taxa that often exploit numerous habitats over a large area
(Brothwell and Jones 1978:47). It is the recovery of these microfauna that can provide specific
paleoenvironmental information. Few elements from these taxa have the potential to be consistently
recovered with 1/4' screens (Table 2).
Additionally, small taxa are important dietary contributors in many geographical areas. Larger
sizes of mesh in the past have failed to reveal the importance of smaller taxa (e.g., Butler 1993;
Shaffer 1992; Payne 1972; Struever 1968; Szuter 1991; Thomas 1969). By producing better skeletal
representation with finer meshes of screen, archaeologists can better interpret taxonomic abundances.
However, as is shown in Table 2, screen size will affect recovery potential of each taxon differently,
relevant to animal size.


These tests clearly indicate the value of 1/8" screens for less-biased recovery
(< 4,500 g). When present at a site, the majority of readily identifiable elemen
rat sized or larger (> 42 g, Taxon 9 and larger) should be recovered if they ar
rami for taxa as small as an evening bat (Taxon 3) or house mouse (Taxon 4) c
recovered. Another advantage concerns comparisons of faunal samples recov
sizes of mesh. By documenting recovery potential for these taxa with both 1/
accurate comparisons of assemblage composition and recovery bias can be asse
samples and can be used for taxonomic representation, and environmental an

Acknowledgments. Barry W. Baker, Gail R. Colby, John E. Dockall, Jean Hudson, Holly A. Nicholson,
Sebastian Payne, Jan Saysette, and three American Antiquity reviewers are thanked for their comments. Specimens

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used in this study were borrowed from the following collections: (1) the Zooarchaeology Laboratory faunal
collection, Institute of Applied Sciences, University of North Texas; (2) the Comparative Zooarchaeological
Research Collection, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University; (3) the University of Texas, De-
partment of Geology, Vertebrate Paleontology Collection; and (4) Shaffer's personal collection. This project was
completed while both authors were in residence at Texas A&M University. Miguel Acevedo graciously translated
the abstract into Spanish.


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Received February 3, 1993; accepted February 2, 1994

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