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Archaeological Illustration 

Archaeological illustration is an important part of the archaeological process. Illustration can help archaeologists understand different details of what they are drawing, and can help with identification and interpretation out of the field too. 


This term can cover many different types of illustration. For example, archaeologists in the field will use technical drawing to draw plans and sections of what they are digging. Click here to find out about drawing in the field and what tools archaeologists use! These drawings will often be digitised (redrawn on the computer), and used in publications about the site.

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Image of a site plan of Ostia Antica, which has been digitised and important features highlighted by the author. Source: Johnston, E (2017) 'Cities of the Dead? A study of tomb architecture at Ostia', unpublished dissertation, The University of Edinburgh.

Finds specialists will also draw artefacts. There are many techniques and tools that they can use to get exact measurements of the artefact (such as a piece of pottery or a piece of flint). These drawings can help archaeologists in the lab to understand what category the artefact can fit into. For example, a piece of pottery can look like many other fragments. By drawing the piece from different angles, the pottery specialist can compare it to other pieces from across the world and in different collections. This helps to understand when the sherd of pottery was made, and can help to give a date to the site.



A sherd of Roman pottery which has been drawn, digitised and a photograph of the piece had been added to the drawing. This helps with identification of the sherd, and to compare it to other similar pieces. Illustration by Emily Johnston.

Click on the following headings to learn about different types of illustration in Archaeology! 

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