R. Lee Lyman Lecture


deer metatarsals

Lower leg bones (metatarsals) of deer

How Can an Archaeologist Contribute to Biodiversity Conservation?

A public lecture by Professor R. Lee Lyman, Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia and UWA Institute of Advanced Studies Visiting Fellow.

All animals die, and many are eaten by predators. If the predators include humans, owls, or carnivores (e.g., Dingoes), skeletal remains of the prey may be deposited in a shelter used by the predator, such as a cave, and preserved for thousands of years. Such an ‘archive’ is an important source of information on past faunas, typically used to reconstruct past environments or investigate the subsistence practices of prehistoric peoples. But the data provided by palaeozoological remains can be used for so much more.

Palaeozoological data represent the results of long-term biological, ecological and evolutionary processes, including many natural ‘experiments’. Numerous questions of importance to conservation biologists can be answered using palaeozoological data: Is a species exotic/non-native, or is it native to an area? Is a species invasive or is it re-colonizing an area it previously occupied? Is the presence, absence, or abundance of a species the result of anthropogenic, or natural, causes? What might be the effects of translocation/assisted migration efforts focused on supplementing a depleted local population? Is one stock more appropriate than another for providing individuals that are to be reintroduced to a particular area? Will a planned modern development project disrupt a seasonal migration route used by animals for millennia? Palaeozoological data for mammals in western North America exemplify answers to all of these questions, and demonstrate the value to biodiversity conservation of information from archaeological (and palaeontological) investigations.

R. Lee Lyman is a senior American archaeologist who specializes in investigating the faunal remains recovered from archaeological excavations (a discipline known as “zooarchaeology”). He has written textbooks on the quantitative analysis of faunal remains and on taphonomy (the study of all processes that intervene between the death of an organism and recovery of its remains from a deposit, palaeontological as well as archaeological). He has published 160 journal articles, 50 book chapters, and 19 books. His research has been supported by the US National Science Foundation, and the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Since 1996 he has published several papers and three books on conservation palaeozoology, exploring the conservation implications of differences between prehistoric (usually mammalian) faunas and surviving present day local faunas. He is also interested in the history of North American archaeology and zooarchaeology; his most recent book is Theodore E. White and the development of zooarchaeology in North America (2016, University of Nebraska Press). Lyman is currently co-authoring a textbook on methods of palaeoenvironmental reconstruction using faunal remains. He was awarded the Society for American Archaeology’s Fryxell Award for Interdisciplinary Research in Zoological Sciences in 2011, and named William H. Byler Distinguished Professor in 2015 by the University of Missouri, where he has taught since 1986.