ZooArchNet.org, a new collaboration for zoological-archeological data

Read an article the other day about a new collaboration data platform, the ZooArchNet, for archeological and zoological data ( data about animals and the history of humankind).

The collaboration was started at the Florida Museum at the University of Florida. They intend to construct a database that would allow researchers to track the history of animals and how humans have interacted with them over time.

The problem is there’s a lot of historical animal specimen information available in various locations/sites around the world and similarly, there’s a lot of data about the history of humanity, but there’s little that cross links the two. And by missing those cross links, researchers aren’t seeing the big picture, that humankind and animal-kind have co-existed since the dawn of time and have impacted each other throughout their history.

However, if there was a site where one could trace the history of animal and human life, across time, in a region, one could develop a better understanding of how they interact and impact one another.

Humankind interacting with animalkind

In the article, they discuss a number of examples where animals have been impacted by humankind over time. For example, originally the Mexican Turkey was domesticated for its feathers during Mayan, Aztec and other civilizations of Central America,. but over time it became a prized for use as food. While this was occurring, its range expanded considerably throughout North (and South) America.

It’s the understanding of habitat range over time and how humankind helped or hindered this range that’s best served by linking zoological and archeological data sets that exist in research libraries throughout the world.

How it works

One problem in cross linking such data is that it often exists in different formats and uses different metadata to describe it.

A key, early decision was to use a standard metadata format ,the Darwin Core (DwC) an outgrowth of the Dublin Core which is more focused on zoological data.

With this in place, the next problem was to translate specimen metadata into the DwC and extract the actual data (or URI’s) that described the specimen for harvesting. Once all that was accomplished they could migrate the specimen data or archeological data and host it/cross link it in their ZooArchNet database.

For example, the researchers at Florida Museum used the Open Context database to provide archeological informationand the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) to supply biological diversity information and together the two were linked and cross indexed in the ZooArchNet database.

Once the data was available and located in Google Cloud storage, researchers could use Google BigQuery data analytics as well as other apps like (Google) indexers to create more data rich views and searchable indices for their ZooArchNet and VertNet web portals.

ZooArchNet is just starting. Most of the information currently available is about the few examples chosen to demonstrate the technology. As with anything like this, there’s a certain amount of crowd sourcing needed to make it worthwhile. It’s popularity will be a prime determinant on its usefulness over time. But anything that helps the world understand the true history of humanity’s impact on this life of this planet is worthwhile.

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Comments?

Photo Credit(s): “turkey bird” by watts photos1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Workflow from ZooArchNet: Connecting zooarchaeological specimens to the biodiversity and archaeology data networks article

Darwin Core overview from Darwin Core: An Evolving Community-Developed Biodiversity Data Standard article

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