The interim report on the April excavation season at Fairy Holes Cave is done. You can read all about it here. Once again, this was another triumph for the ‘draw a picture and then write a story about it’ methodology. I can spend hours staring at the flashing cursor in Word when I am supposed to be writing. Even when I know exactly what it is I need to say, getting the first sentence on paper can be almost impossible.
In complete contrast, even the most complicated drawings follow exactly the same steps and procedures. Moving through these stages makes the drawing happen, which is good in itself. However, the process of drawing archaeological layers is just as much of an act of interpretation as writing about them. So I find that by the end of the drawing I have sorted out my ideas about that particular feature and I can, usually, write coherent prose about it. Just as I can’t talk without waving my arms around, I often can’t write without first having drawn.
For example, this is the field drawing done by Olaf and Anna of the deep section inside Fairy Holes. To be published this needs to be cleaned up and interpreted, which I do in Adobe Illustrator. In this screen shot I have imported a scanned version of the original muddy sheet of drawing film. Then I have used the scale tool to re-size it so that it fits on the page I am going to publish it on. Illustrator works in layers, keeping all the same bits of the drawing together on sheets of virtual tracing paper. You can lock these layers to prevent anything untoward happening to completed bits of the drawing. So, now the field drawing is correctly scaled, I have locked the layer it is on and opened a new layer. On this layer I have drawn the outline of the cave walls only and I’ve chosen to do that in a 0.4 mm thick line. Then I have locked that layer too. Above that I have drawn the edges of the different fills of the cave using a 0.3 mm thick line on yet another layer. The conventions about different line widths for different parts of the drawing make it easier to read.
Now for the clever(ish) bit. Illustrator allows you to define patterns from anything you have drawn and apply them to an area of the drawing. I have a series of these patterns saved for the different kinds of soils we describe on excavation. I can also modify them so that I can make them denser or lighter depending on how dark or light the deposit is. I have added a pattern to represent the solid limestone and two patterns for the different fills. F10 is more compact (hence the continuous lines of dots) but also slightly lighter in colour than F9 (hence the lines are closer together in this context). I’ve also added some very fine stippling to represent the silty component of the sediments (I’d use larger dots if it was sand).
The final touches are to add the text and labelling that helps tie the drawing in to the rest of the site and to delete the base layer with all the mud on it. Job done, and back to having to think about what to write again.