GIS skeletal templates for some common mammalian species

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GIS skeletal templates for some common mammalian species


Note: This presentation won 1st Place in the 2010 Junior Researcher Open Zooarchaeology Prize competition.


Zooarchaeologists often want to display data on an idealised animal skeleton, with individual elements or portions coloured or shaded. Whether data relate to skeletal part frequency, location of butchery marks, or taphonomic variables, presentation in anatomical form is both easier to interpret and visually more attractive than simple charts or tables of results. Producing anatomical diagrams can be very time consuming, however, limiting the practicality of their use beyond the most obvious and important data categories. If the process of displaying anatomical data could be made faster and simpler this would not only save a considerable amount of time for analysts, but would also encourage them to explore possible patterns in data categories that might not otherwise be considered in detail.


GIS software allows tabular data to be linked to spatial features and displayed graphically at the touch of a button. If we treat the skeleton as analogous to a map or site plan, the same technology can be used to explore and present zooarchaeological data.
I have created shapefile sets for six common mammalian species, using original templates created by Michel Coutureau. Combined with a GIS software package (e.g. ArcGIS or an open source equivalent such as gvSIG) these allow users to:

• Link external data tables to a template using standard element codes.
• View frequencies or taphonomic variables graphically, using the software's symbology options to colour/shade elements automatically.
• Display data by element, portion, or a customisable combination.
• Normalise counts using the built-in element frequency ('Q') fields.
• Present multiple variables side-by-side to compare sites, phases, etc.
• Use SQL queries to exclude elements meeting selected criteria.
• Create legends automatically.

Beyond learning the basics of the chosen software's interface, no specialist GIS knowledge is required.


At present shapefiles are only available for six species. Anyone interested in this technique is encouraged to convert templates for additional species into shapefile format, using the instructions included here, and to make these available to the zooarchaeological community through BoneCommons or other open access fora. Illustrator templates for a wide variety of species - including birds and fish as well as mammals - are available on Archéozoo (


The zip folder contains shapefiles for six common species (cattle, sheep, horse, dog, red deer, and pig) plus two word documents containing instructions for (a) using the shapefiles and (b) converting additional templates from Illustrator format.


These files were converted to shapefile format by the author and initially published in Internet Archaeology. You are welcome to use and modify the files in any way you find useful, provided that you cite the following references for both the shapefiles and the original Illustrator drawings:

Orton, D.C. (2010) 'A new tool for zooarchaeological analysis: ArcGIS skeletal templates for some common mammalian species', Internat Archaeology 28

Yvinec, J.H., M. Coutureau and C. Tomé (2007) ‘Corpus of digitalized mammals skeletons’,


David Orton


David Orton

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David Orton. "GIS skeletal templates for some common mammalian species," in BoneCommons, Item #1686, (accessed August 14, 2020).


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File: Orton ICAZ poster.pdf