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Small Finds Illustration

Many of the artefacts found on site will be illustrated for publications, particularly if someone is researching a type of object or the artefact is note-worthy. Some commercial units will employ illustrators, while other companies will have freelance illustrators who may do jobs for many different people.

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Drawing of Flints © Emily Johnston

Why Illustrate Artefacts?


The illustrations of artefacts are measured precisely, and drawn from different angles. Therefore, the drawings are an excellent record of the artefact. Sometimes photographs do not pick up small details, or due to the light and shadow, some details are hidden. By drawing the artefact, illustrators can make sure that even the tiniest of details is included. Illustrators can also emphasise particular details of the object too - such as showing how a surface slopes or bends, that a photograph might not show.



How Are Artefacts Drawn?


Drawing artefacts requires many measurements, and often specialised tools. When drawing artefacts, it is important to take as many measurements to show the details of the object. This is because handmade objects are unique, and will change over time, through use. Different parts of the object may chip away or modify through repeated use. Think of how a chef’s favourite knife blade will become blunt from being used to chop up vegetables. Or your favourite toy may become a little more worn and faded because you’ve carried it around everywhere. Prehistoric objects, such as flint, will chip away with continual use. Archaeologists can study the patterns on flint to understand how it has been used and why. This makes it extremely important for illustrators to show all the details on the flint, so that archaeologists studying it can make a typology.


When shading the object, archaeologists can use different effects. The most common is ‘stippling’. This is can help to show the different textures of the surface or depth. This technique can also be used when drawing any decoration that appears on the object.

Digitisation of Roman pot © Emily Johnston


Ink drawing of George V one penny © Emily Johnston

Tools For Drawing


Just like on site drawings, illustrators will tend to draw the artefact first in pencil. Then, once the drawing is completed, it is either ‘inked’ in pen, or (more commonly) digitalised on the computer. 


Profile Gauge


A Profile Gauge is a tool used to help show the profile of an object. Objects are drawn from different faces and directions to give a clear overview of the whole object, and a profile gauge will help give the most accurate representation of the side view. The illustrator can push the teeth of the gauge against the profile of the artefact (as long as it is not fragile and this will not damage it!)




A caliper is a tool used for measuring features of the artefact. It can help give accurate heights, thicknesses and widths of the find that you are drawing. 

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