Photos and Drawings

In order to properly document the excavation and the nature of the archaeological site, archaeologists will take numerous photographs and make a multitude of drawings. These will demonstrate the relationship between different structures on the site, explain the stratigraphy and illustrate the occupation sequence, give the layout of a building as well as show what kind of artefacts and pottery were found on that site.

In fact, we take photographs of the site before the excavations begin (even before we put the strings up). These will give an overview of the area prior to excavation, usually seen from a distance (it is best if you can climb a ladder, a hill or even a tree). During the excavation, additional photographs will be taken as new things are unearthed; these will be overview shots of the excavation units as well as in situ object photographs, which show objects still in their original spot partially covered by dirt. At the end of the season final photographs are taken because, in most cases, what was just excavated needs to be re-buried for protection against the elements. Excavated objets brought to the dig house will be photographed from various angles on a uniform background (a bit like in a photo studio).

Additional photos may be taken to document various other things that may or may not be archaeological: landscapes, living area, people, and you while you work. You never know when a journalist will ask you for a photo of yourself in action. These photos are also useful when we give lectures and when we have websites!

While photographs are useful, drawings are sometimes better (and that’s why we do both). The first drawing needed is a map of the archaeological site, which illustrates topographic elements (elevations and depressions) on site (a surveyor normally generates this map). After each season, architectural features will be added to a copy of this map by one of the team members. Architectural features will also be drawn separately upon the completion of their excavation. Although some teams employ an architect, most will assign an archaeologist to this task.

Drawing a column drum in the temple

Drawing a column drum in the temple

Within an excavation unit, archaeologists will draw top plans of the features found within an archaeological locus as seen from above. Technically this should be done each time a new context is discovered; however, many archaeologists do it only when they find new architectural features or deposits within a context, making quick sketches in their diary in the meantime. Complementing the top plans are the baulk drawings. Basically, these are cross-sections of the layers of earth on the dig site that show the vertical sequence of events/activities performed on site (stratigraphy). Baulks might be removed during excavations to create a bigger unit, so it’s necessary to draw them before the evidence is gone.

Once removed from the archaeological site, objects will be drawn by archaeologists who also serve as illustrators. We will draw anything from small tiny jewellery beads to large statues and whatever else in between, including pottery sherds. Having an art degree, I am an archaeological illustrator (a site artist). Although I do know how to draw pottery sherds, I very rarely do these days…. Instead, I draw whole ceramic vessels as they more difficult to draw. Pottery drawing is very important as types of pottery very often help date an archaeological site based on the manufacture, materials and decoration.

On an archaeological site, anything that can be drawn will be drawn and that includes carved or painted decoration on building walls, inscriptions on objects and stelae, and even ancient graffiti.

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3 thoughts on “Photos and Drawings

  1. Love this information, but I still don’t understand why is better drawing an object than taking a photo of it. Why draw when you can see the exact thing that you found? Could you explain?

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