Archaeological Illustration

After I graduated from Boston University in 2010, I joined the Central Lydia Archaeological Survey (CLAS) in Turkey for several months.  I spent much of that time walking through agricultural fields that surrounded known and suspected archaeological sites, collecting and counting artifacts discovered on the surface. PENTAX ImageThe most distinctive and diagnostic ceramic sherds* were then cataloged, photographed, and illustrated.  After returning to the United States, I was tasked with digitizing these illustrations in Adobe Illustrator and converting them to CLAS’s preferred format for publication using the protocol that I had helped develop during my last year in college.  The following four pieces are examples of illustrations that I both drew by hand onsite and subsequently digitized.

*The correct archaeological term for a ceramic fragment is sherd, not shard as is used in common parlance.


This first piece is a good example of how archaeological ceramic documentation works.  This particular artifact was a rim fragment, from which an approximate diameter is determined based on the sherd’s curve compared to a specialized chart.  To the left of the median line, the profile of the sherd is displayed along with any interior features.  To the right of the median line, the profile is displayed along with any exterior features.  On both sides of the median, any abrupt change in the angle of the sherd is marked as a line extending from the profile to the median line.  This artifact had an interesting exterior feature, and so I drew the sherd itself on the right side of the median in a head-on view, as well as in profile.


The second archaeological piece is a base that presented the challenge of conveying local color in greyscale, as it had a very distinctive blue-green glaze on the interior.  While the shape of this sherd was not complicated, and the diameter of the base easily determined, it was quite challenging choosing shades of grey that not only stood out from one another to differentiate colors, but also had relative values that accurately portrayed the design.  Also notable in this piece is cross-hatching used to show the broken edges of the artifact.  In addition to the difficulty in communicating color, this sherd also was particularly interesting because the glaze had come off slightly on the interior, but the ceramic itself was not broken.  I therefore had to differentiate between the broken edges and the chipped glaze by using a stippling technique standard for shading instead of cross-hatching.


The third piece shows another common artifact: a handle.  Often the thickest parts of any ceramic vessel are the most durable (handles, rims, bases, feet etc.) and represent a high percentage of ceramic finds.  A lot of handle fragments were recovered and had to be illustrated without the context of their corresponding vessels.  I would approximate the angle at which the handle would have attached to the rest of the missing ceramic, as well as record the profile and the exterior view.  For dating and identification purposes, the cross-section was the most important aspect to record.


The fourth archaeological piece is by far my favorite.  The artifact was a fragment of a jug and was diagnostic, meaning that it was capable of being used for dating purposes because it was common during a specific time period, namely the early Bronze Age in Anatolia (3000-2000 BCE).  It was an irregular and asymmetrical shape, so I had to improvise a little in order to show all aspects of the piece.   The dashed line is an extrapolation of the broken sherd used to illustrate the mouth of the jug, and the profile of the neck of the jug is shown in black.  I used two dashed lines to indicate where a handle would have emerged opposite the mouth.  In addition to the exterior and interior profiles on the left, I drew a head-on view of the sherd as well as its corresponding cross-section.


Over the course of my undergraduate research and my season onsite with CLAS, I illustrated hundreds of artifacts.  Here are just a few more examples.





Tripod Feet


Incised Designs