Mini journal logo  Home Issue Contents All Issues

Data-Informed Tools for Archaeological Reflexivity: Examining the substance of bone through a meta-analysis of academic textsOpen Data

Sarah E. Jackson, Caleigh E. Richissin, Erin E. McCabe and James Jaehoon Lee

Cite this as: Jackson, S.E., Richissin, C.E., McCabe, E.E. and Lee, J.J. 2020 Data-Informed Tools for Archaeological Reflexivity: Examining the substance of bone through a meta-analysis of academic texts, Internet Archaeology 55.


Figure 6
A topic-cluster with 16 subtopics, containing examples of broad and general archaeological language

Our study uses computational archaeology tools to investigate how researchers in our field present interpretations of the past in patterned ways. We do so in order to illuminate assumptions, naturalised categories, and patterned interpretative moves that may direct or impact the ways we interact with our evidence and write about our research. We approach this topic through a meta-analysis, using large-scale textual data from archaeological publications, focusing on the case study of bone. Are there patterned ways that archaeologists write about artefacts like bone that are visible when analysing larger datasets? If so, what underlying ideas shape these shared discursive moves? We present the results of three analyses: textual groundwork, conducted manually by field experts, and two machine-based interactive topic modelling visualisations (pyLDAvis and a hierarchical tree based on a Model of Models). Our results indicate that there are, indeed, patterns in our writing around how artefactual and archaeological materials are discussed, many of which are overt and sensical. However, our analyses also identify patterned discourses that are less obvious, but still part of regularised discourses in written narratives surrounding bone. These include: the use of multiple conceptual positions within, rather than simply between, articles, and a lack of patterned centrality of indigenous ontologies in how our field writes about bone. This pilot approach identifies data-informed, applied tools that will aid reflexive practices in our field. These operate at a scale that impacts future scholarly interactions with both evidence and published interpretations by shifting observation and reflection from an individual or small group exercise to a larger and more systematic process.

  • Google Scholar
  • Related data: hosted by Scholar@UC. The multilevel model dataset includes the resulting top words of topics from six topic models and each topic's cluster assignment. While we do not have rights to reproduce the articles themselves, a title list has been included to provide additional context.
  • Keywords: computational archaeology, machine learning, meta-analysis, disciplinary reflexivity, bone, Mesoamerica
  • Accepted: 25 September 2020. Published: 17 December 2020
  • Funding: This publication is supported by the Digital Scholarship Center/Mellon Foundation at the University of Cincinnati
  • PDF download (main article text only)

Corresponding author: Sarah E. Jackson ORCID logo
Department of Anthropology, University of Cincinnati

Co-authors: Caleigh E. Richissin
Department of Anthropology, University of Cincinnati

Erin E. McCabe
Digital Scholarship Center, University of Cincinnati

James Jaehoon Lee
Digital Scholarship Center, University of Cincinnati

Full text

Figure 1: The top chart depicts the number of articles ('documents') over time that include the term 'bone'. The bottom chart shows the number of documents in relation to the number of times the search term 'bone' appears in those articles. 44.07% of these documents contain the search term 'bone' 5 or more times; 51.25% of documents mention bone 4+ times; 26.04% of documents mention bone 10+ times.

Figure 2: Complete view of the visualisation adapted from the Python programming package, pyLDAvis (Mabey 2015). Here, the highlighted Topic 2 of 25 is the second most prevalent topic with 6.6% of tokens. This topic contains terms pertaining to partibility such as skull, mandible, and portion. Terms like 'death' and 'trauma' indicate this topic's overlap with a more cultural consideration of bone.

Figure 3: Inset view of Figure 2. Topics 7, 8, and 16 are grouped together though relatively distant from other topics in the corpus. Together they represent 13.1% of the corpus tokens (5.2%, 5.1%, and 2.8% respectively). Terms contributing to the assessment of these topics are isotope, collagen, enamel, and carbon.

Figure 4: Inset view of Figure 2. Topic 1 is the most prominent topic representing 11.75% of corpus tokens. Topic 19 makes up a much smaller percentage of tokens in the corpus at only 2.1%. Topic 1 contains much broader archaeological language pertaining to burials while Topic 19 contains overlapping language, though this cluster's vocabulary is more culturally explicit, contributing to the difference in token percentage.

Figure 5: Complete view of the Multilevel Model of Models. This model visualisation displays hierarchical relationships between clusters and topics. This visualisation also allows for textual reengagement with documents as displayed in the document pane. This visualisation highlights clusters 0 and 2 as an example. These two clusters feature bone as a supporting role within discourses more central to other topics.

Figure 6: Inset view of Figure 5. Cluster 13 contains 16 subtopics making it one of the more broadly distributed cluster vocabularies, placing it in the top tier of prevalent clusters (third in terms of topic count). Examples of broad and general archaeological language within this cluster's vocabulary include structure, site, and archaeology.

Figure 7: Inset view of Figure 5. Cluster 4 contains only two subtopics making it one of the most narrowly distributed cluster vocabularies. The two subtopics within cluster 4 contain overlapping vocabulary suggesting a more tightly wound discourses related to burials. Contributing terms include burial, individual, and grave.

Figure 8: Inset view of Figure 5. Cluster 16 contains nine subtopics placing it in the middle range of cluster vocabularies within the corpus. Contributing terms to this cluster's vocabulary include general language such as site and archaeology, as well as more focused language such as isotope and diet.

Figure 9: Inset view of Figure 5. Highlighted Clusters 0 and 2 (viewed here with Cluster 1, not highlighted) contain terminology suggesting indigenous ideology and perspectives where bone plays a supporting role, rather than the primary focus of these topics.

Alberti, B. and Bray, T.L. 2009 'Introduction', Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19 (3), 337-43.

Andrushko, V.A., Buzon, M.R., Simonetti, A. and Creaser, R.A. 2009 'Strontium isotope evidence for prehistoric migration at Chokepukio, Valley of Cuzco, Peru', Latin American Antiquity 20 (1), 57-75.

Astor-Aguilera, M.A. 2010 The Maya World of Communicating Objects: quadripartite crosses, trees, and stones, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Atalay, S. 2006 'Indigenous archaeology as decolonizing practice', The American Indian Quarterly 30 (3-4), 280-311.

Aussenac-Gilles, N. 2006 'Ontology or meta-model for retrieving scientific reasoning in documents: The Arkeotek project' in Proceedings of the workshop on exploring the limits of global models for integration and use of historical and scientific information.

Bardolph, D.N. 2014 'A critical evaluation of recent gendered publishing trends in American archaeology', American Antiquity 79 (3), 522-40.

Batta, E., Argáez, C., Mansilla, J., Pijoan, C. and Bosch, P. 2013 'On yellow and red pigmented bones found in Mayan burials of Jaina', Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (1), 712-22.

Berggren, A. and Hodder, I. 2003 'Social practice, method, and some problems of field archaeology', American Antiquity 68 (3), 421-34.

Blei, D.M. 2003 'Latent Dirichlet Allocation', Journal of Machine Learning Research 3 (30), 993-1022.

Blue, A. and Communications, U. 2017 Digital Archaeology Project to Use Big Data, UANews [Last accessed: 24 October 2019].

Boivin, N. and Owoc, M.A. (eds) 2004 Soils, Stones and Symbols: cultural perceptions of the mineral world, London: UCL.

Bowker, G.C. and Star, S.L. 1999 Sorting Things Out: classification and its consequences, Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Browne, D.M., Silverman, H. and Garcia, R. 1993 'A cache of 48 Nasca trophy heads from Cerro Carapo, Peru', Latin American Antiquity 4 (3), 274-94.

Buccellati, G. 2017 A Critique of Archaeological Reason: structural, digital, and philosophical aspects of the excavated record, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Carr, E.S. and Lampert, M. 2016a 'Introduction: pragmatics of scale' in E.S. Carr and M. Lampert (eds) Scale: Discourse and Dimensions of Social Life, Oakland CA: University of California Press. 1-21.

Carr, E.S. and Lampert, M. (eds) 2016b Scale: Discourse and Dimensions of Social Life, Oakland CA: University of California Press.

Chapman, R. and Wylie, A. 2016 Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology, London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Chuang, J., Manning, C.D. and Heer, J. 2012 'Termite: visualization techniques for assessing textual topic models' in Proceedings of the International Working Conference on Advanced Visual Interfaces. 74-77.

Cobb, H., Harris, O.J., Jones, C. and Richardson, P. 2012 Reconsidering Archaeological Fieldwork: exploring on-site relationships between theory and practice, New York: Springer.

Cohen Priva, U. and Austerweil, J.L. 2015 'Analyzing the history of cognition using Topic Models', Cognition 135, 4-9.

Conkey, M.W. 2007 'Questioning theory: is there a gender of theory in archaeology?', Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 14 (3), 285-310.

Cooper, A. and Green, C. 2016 'Embracing the complexities of "Big Data" in archaeology: the case of the English Landscape and Identities Project', Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 23(1), 271-304.

Dallas, C. 2016 'Jean-Claude Gardin on archaeological data, representation and knowledge: implications for Digital Archaeology', Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 23(1), 305-30.

Danforth, M.E., Wrobel, G.D., Armstrong, C.W. and Swanson, D. 2009 'Juvenile age estimation using diaphyseal long bone lengths among ancient Maya populations', Latin American Antiquity 20 (1), 3-13.

De Fina, A. and Georgakopoulou, A. 2015 'Introduction' in A. De Fina and A. Georgakopoulou (eds) The Handbook of Narrative Analysis, Oxford: Wiley Blackwell. 1-17.

deFrance, S.D., Wernke, S.A. and Sharpe, A.E. 2016 'Conversion and persistence: analysis of faunal remains from an early Spanish Colonial doctrinal settlement in Highland Peru', Latin American Antiquity 27 (3), 300-17.

Emery, K.F. 2008 'Techniques of ancient Maya bone working: evidence from a Classic Maya deposit', Latin American Antiquity 19 (2), 204-21.

Emery, K.F. 2009 'Perspectives on ancient Maya bone crafting from a Classic Period bone-artifact manufacturing assemblage', Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28 (4), 458-70.

Emery, K.F., Wright, L.E. and Schwarcz, H. 2000 'Isotopic analysis of ancient deer bone: biotic stability in collapse period Maya land-use', Journal of Archaeological Science 27 (6), 537-50.

Fargher, L.F. 2007 'A microscopic view of ceramic production: an analysis of thin-sections from Monte Albán', Latin American Antiquity, 18(3), 313-32.

Gardin, J-C. 1980 Archaeological Constructs, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gardin, J-C. and Roux, V. 2004 'The Arkeotek project: a European network of knowledge bases in the archaeology of techniques', Archeologia e Calcolatori 15, 25-40.

Gattiglia, G. 2015 'Think big about data: archaeology and the Big Data challenge', Archäologische Informationen 38, 113-24.

Geller, P.L. 2012 'Parting (with) the dead: body partibility as evidence of commoner ancestor veneration', Ancient Mesoamerica 23 (1), 115-30.

Gerry, J.P. 1997 'Bone isotope ratios and their bearing on elite privilege among the Classic Maya', Geoarchaeology 12 (1), 41-69.<41::AID-GEA3>3.0.CO;2-9

Goldstone, A. and Underwood, T. 2014 'The quiet transformations of literary studies: what thirteen thousand scholars could tell us', New Literary History 45 (3), 359-84.

Goodwin, C. 1994 'Professional vision', American Anthropologist 96 (3), 606-33.

Goodwin, C. 2015 'Narrative as talk-in-interaction' in A. De Fina and A. Georgakopoulou (eds) The Handbook of Narrative Analysis, Oxford: Wiley Blackwell. 195-218.

Grasseni, C. 2007 Skilled Visions: between apprenticeship and standards, New York: Berghahn Books.

Healy, K. 2017 'Fuck nuance', Sociological Theory 35 (2), 118-27.

Henare, A.J.M., Holbraad, M. and Wastell, S. (eds) 2007 Thinking Through Things: theorising artefacts ethnographically, London: Routledge.

Huggett, J. 2013 'Disciplinary issues: challenging the research and practice of computer applications in archaeology' in G. Earl, T. Sly, A. Chrysanthi, P. Murrieta-Flores, C. Papadopoulos, I. Romanowska and D. Wheatley (eds) Archaeology in the Digital Era, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. 13-24.

Huvila, I., Olsson, M., Faniel, I.M., Dalbello, M. and Dallas, C. 2017 'Archaeological perspectives in information science', Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology 54 (1), 570-73.

Jackson, S.E. 2014 'Domestication and liberation: How we relate to our data, and what it means for understanding the Maya', Reviews in Anthropology 43 (2), 111-34.

Jay, M. and Ramaswamy, S. 2014 Empires of Vision: a reader, Durham: Duke University Press.

Jones, A. 2012 Prehistoric Materialities: becoming material in prehistoric Britain and Ireland, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jørgensen, E.K. 2015 'Typifying scientific output: a bibliometric analysis of archaeological publishing across the science/humanities spectrum (2009-2013)', Danish Journal of Archaeology 4 (2), 125-39.

Joyce, R.A. and Preucel, R.W. 2002 The Languages of Archaeology: dialogue, narrative, and writing, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Kerr, J. n.d. Maya Vase Data Base [Last accessed: 30 October 2019].

Kozak, M. and LaClair, V. 2012 'LiDAR the "I" in big data', Earth Imaging Journal: Remote Sensing, Satellite Images, Satellite Imagery 19 July, [Last accessed: 24 October 2019].

Lee, J.J. and Beckelhimer, J. 2020 'Anthropocene and empire: discourse networks of the human record', PMLA 135 (1), 110-29.

Lee, J., Wang, Z, and Johnson, A. 2018 'Embracing semantic ambiguity to enhance interpretability of complex unstructured machine learning problems', Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology 55 (1), 849-51.

Levine, M.N., Fargher, L.F., Cecil, L.G. and Forde, J.E. 2015 'Polychrome pottery economics and ritual life in Postclassic Oaxaca, Mexico', Latin American Antiquity 26 (3), 319-40.

Lucas, G. 2019 Writing the Past: knowledge and literary production in archaeology, New York: Routledge.

Mabey, B. 2015 Welcome to pyLDAvis's Documentation! - pyLDAvis 2.1.2 documentation, pyLDAvis, [Last accessed: 24 October 2019].

Marriner, N. 2009 'Currents and trends in the archaeological sciences', Journal of Archaeological Science 36 (12), 2811-15.

Martin, S. 2019 'Topic modeling and textual analysis of American scientific journals, 1818-1922', Current Research in Digital History 2.

Marwick, B. 2016 'Computational reproducibility in archaeological research: basic principles and a case study of their implementation', Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 24 (2), 424-50.

Meskell, L. 2004 Object Worlds in Ancient Egypt Material Biographies Past and Present, Oxford: Berg.

Meskell, L. and Joyce, R.A. 2003 Embodied Lives: figuring ancient Maya and Egyptian experience, London: Routledge.

Millaire, J-F. 2004 'The manipulation of human remains in Moche society: delayed burials, grave reopening, and secondary offerings of human bones on the Peruvian North Coast', Latin American Antiquity 15 (4), 371-88.

Miller, D. 1987 Material Culture and Mass Consumption, Oxford: Blackwell.

Mirzoeff, N. 2011 The Right to Look: a counterhistory of visuality, Durham: Duke University Press.

Morgan, C. and Eve, S. 2012 'DIY and digital archaeology: what are you doing to participate?', World Archaeology 44 (4), 521-37.

Neff, H., Blomster, J., Glascock, M.D., Bishop, R.L., Blackman, M.J., Coe, M.D., Cowgill, G.L., Cyphers, A., Diehl, R.A., Houston, S., Joyce, A.A., Lipo, C.P., and Winter, M. 2006 'Smokescreens in the provenance investigation of Early Formative Mesoamerican ceramics', Latin American Antiquity 17 (1), 104-18.

Novotny, A.C. 2014 'The bones of the ancestors as inalienable possessions: a bioarchaeological perspective', Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 23(1), 54-65.

Nystrom, K.C., Buikstra, J.E. and Braunstein, E.M. 2005 'Radiographic evaluation of two early Classic elites from Copan, Honduras', International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 15(3), 196-207.

Pedregosa, F. et al. 2011 'Scikit-learn: machine learning in Python', Machine Learning Research 12, 2825-30.

Peirson, B.R.E., Bottino, E., Damerow, J.L. and Laubichler, M.D. 2017 'Quantitative perspectives on fifty years of the Journal of the History of Biology', Journal of the History of Biology 50 (4), 695-751.

Pike, W. and Gahegan, M. 2007 'Beyond ontologies: toward situated representations of scientific knowledge', International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 65 (7), 674-88.

Řehůřek, R. and Sojka, P. 2010 'Software framework for Topic Modelling with Large Corpora', in Proceedings of the Lrec 2010 Workshop on New Challenges for Nlp Frameworks, 45-50.

Rhodes, J.A., Mountjoy, J.B. and Cupul-Magaña, F.G. 2016 'Understanding the wrapped bundle burials of West Mexico: a contextual analysis of Middle Formative mortuary practices', Ancient Mesoamerica 27 (2), 377-88.

Roux, V. and Aussenac-Gilles, N. 2013 'Knowledge bases and query tools for a better cumulativity in the field of Archaeology: the Arkeotek Project' in Contreras Cortés, F., Farjas, M. and Melero, F.J. (eds) Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference on Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology, British Archaeological Reports (Int. Series) 2494, Oxford: Archaeopress. 267-72.

Schmidt, S.C. and Marwick, B. 2020 'Tool-driven revolutions in archaeological science', Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology 3 (1), 18-32.

Sharer, R.J., Balkansky, A.K., Burton, J.H., Feinman, G.M., Flannery, K.V., Grove, D.C, et al. 2006 'On the logic of archaeological inference: Early Formative pottery and the evolution of Mesoamerican societies', Latin American Antiquity 17 (1), 90-103.

Sievert, C. and Shirley, K. 2014 'LDAvis: a method for visualizing and interpreting topics' in Proceedings of the Workshop on Interactive Language Learning, Visualisation, and Interfaces, Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Association for Computational Linguistics. 63-70.

Spence, M.W. and Pereira, G. 2007 'The human skeletal remains of the Moon Pyramid, Teotihuacan', Ancient Mesoamerica18 (1), 147-57.

Tilley, C.Y. 2004 The Materiality of Stone: explorations in landscape phenomenology, Oxford: Berg.

Tshitoyan, V., Dagdelen, J., Weston, L., Dunn, A., Rong, Z., Kononova, O., Persson, K.A., Ceder, R. and Jain A. 2019 'Unsupervised word embeddings capture latent knowledge from Materials Science literature', Nature 571(7763), 95-98.

Tsing, A. 2004 Friction, Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Viveiros de Castro, E.V. 1998 'Cosmological deixis and Amerindian perspectivism', The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4 (3), 469-88.

Vlachidis, A. and Tudhope, D. 2016 'A knowledge-based approach to Information Extraction for semantic interoperability in the archaeology domain', Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 67 (5), 1138-52.

Wagner, W. 2010. 'Steven Bird, Ewan Klein and Edward Loper: Natural Language Processing with Python, analyzing text with the Natural Language Toolkit', Language Resources and Evaluation 44 (4), 421-24.

Wanner, I.S., Sosa, T.S., Alt, K.W. and Blos, V.T. 2007 'Lifestyle, occupation, and whole bone morphology of the Pre-Hispanic Maya coastal population from Xcambó, Yucatan, Mexico', International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 17 (3), 253-68.

White, C.D. and Schwarcz, H.P. 1989 'Ancient Maya diet: as inferred from isotopic and elemental analysis of human bone', Journal of Archaeological Science 16 (5), 451-74.

Williams, J.S., Stronge, S.M., Iannone, G. and Longstaffe, F.J. 2017 'Examining chronological trends in Ancient Maya diet at Minanha, Belize, using the stable isotopes of Carbon and Nitrogen,' Latin American Antiquity 28 (2), 269-87.

Wrobel, G. 2007 'Issues related to determining burial chronology by fluoride analysis of bone from the Maya archaeological site of Chau Hiix, Belize', Archaeometry 49 (4), 699-711.

Internet Archaeology is an open access journal based in the Department of Archaeology, University of York. Except where otherwise noted, content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) Unported licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that attribution to the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI are given.

Terms and Conditions | Legal Statements | Privacy Policy | Cookies Policy | Citing Internet Archaeology

Internet Archaeology content is preserved for the long term with the Archaeology Data Service. Help sustain and support open access publication by donating to our Open Access Archaeology Fund.