Elizabeth Gardner MA (Hons) MCIfA MIAI

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General Advice

Archaeological Illustration is a technical specialism within archaeology.  There are two distinct strands to it.  The first could be described as an archaeological artist  as it focuses on producing reconstructive artwork for presentation, for example information panels .     The artwork will be based on archaeologically excavated data and historical facts. The second strand is technical illustration in support of commercial and academic archaeology. I fall into the second camp of illustrators. 

Illustrators such as myself working on the technical illustration side of the profession are in the main, employed by archaeological contractors (I am also a Heritage Consultant as well as an Archaeological Illustrator).  Illustration is involved in the whole process of archaeology and  is an aspect of the recording process. 

In the field the archaeologist excavates a feature, then this is recorded by drawing as well as completing proforma context sheets. Finds will be logged and triangulated by plotting a 3d co-ordinate. This is made much simpler by the use of GPS survey equipment. Sections will need to be tied into OS datum levels and plans into the OS grid or a floating site grid which can be tied in at a later date. Photographs are also taken. 

This mass of data will be taken and synthesised and this is the point an illustrator gets involved, the plans and sections collated  and digitised. A report will be produced, and finds analysed by specialists. Some of these will need to be illustrated and they are drawn to scale to set conventions.

As an example, some of the pieces of medieval window glass I drew were so fragile they could not be removed from water to try and mimic the wet clayish soils they were excavated from.  This posed an interesting logistical challenge, but for the objects themselves the act of excavating them removed them from a stable environment they had existed in for 500 years and which had conserved them.  Modern techniques were not able to conserve them and soon after I drew them they delaminated and deteriorated so much that they essentially crumbled into dust.  (Water is hugely damaging to glass -  read more here ).  Suffice to say, my carefully measured drawings are the only remaining full record of the assemblage of glass excavated.

Reference books...on my desk

 1) "Approaches to Archaeological Illustration:A Handbook (2005) Edited by Melanie Steiner - Practical Handbook 18, a joint publication by the CBA and AAI&S and 
2) "Drawing Archaeological Finds: A Handbook" (2002) Griffiths, N. Jenner, A. and Wilson, C., published by Archetype. 
3) "Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology: Archaeological Illustration" (1989) Adkins, L. and Adkins, R.A. published by the Cambridge University Press 

Out of Print/Superceded Resources

In October 2011 the Association of Archaeological Illustrators and Surveyors (AAI&S) merged into the Chartered Institute of Archaeologists.   They had produced a great series of technical papers which are a very useful reference.  All are out of print and of their time (e.g. the Paper on Copyright Law is no longer current and the law has been updated but it is a useful reference guide)

AAI&S Technical Papers

Papers on Special Topics and Reference Material