Senior Project Advisor

Christine Johnston

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2023


archaeology, archeology, photography, England, Scotland, Skara Brae, Sutton Hoo, ship, Neolithic, burial, history


Archaeological photography is an interdisciplinary aspect of archaeological endeavors that is key in allowing archaeological finds to be accessible to a general audience. This facet is key in data collection and distribution within the field as it is to the general public.

Photography is something that people are exposed to, possibly even partaking in, on a daily basis, but photography goes a lot deeper than simply capturing a still image. The history of photography, and the ways photography has improved so many disciplines are things that are just as important as the camera itself, and yet not necessarily needed to partake in photography as a whole. Photography is an important tool in many different disciplines, and archaeology is no exception. Archaeology is the study of past cultures via material remains. That can include huge sites such as castles or villages, as well as small deposits of things like pottery or waste. With this in mind, archaeology is a discipline in which photography is an important tool and data collector, in the present day and in the past. Cameras have become as important of a tool as a spade and brush to modern-day archaeologists. Cameras have become an integral and assumed part of archaeology, and because of this, the photos that are produced are an assumed aspect of field work and not really considered to be optional (Bohrer, 2011). They are used in publications and are useful in documenting the artifacts as tools for documenting change.

The best way to understand how photography and archaeology are connected is to examine this connection through case studies. Within this paper, the sites of Skara Brae and Sutton Hoo, both in the United Kingdom, will be used as case studies in order to show the difference between past and present archaeological techniques and photographic techniques. This includes both changes in the development of various technologies as well as regulations surrounding archaeological digs. The site of Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands, Scotland will show the development of the site (in publication as well as workflow in general), both in the past and present, which is useful to show how all kinds of aspects have changed – from archaeological practices to photography to public awareness by people of site developments and activities. Skara Brae was initially discovered in the 19th century, then excavated first in the early 20th century. The ongoing archaeological excavations at Skara Brae and other archaeological sites around the world throughout the 20th century show the development of sites over time quite well through documentation, which includes photography.

It is important also to understand that developments in archaeology are not necessarily reflected the same at all sites, and to attempt to remedy this, Sutton Hoo in England will be the other focus site within this capstone paper. Like with Skara Brae, photography (and archaeology in general) of the site when it was first excavated and now can be used to see the development of the field. Sometimes, photography can be used to determine if sites are the same as when they were first excavated, if deterioration has happened, or if anything is out of place.

The goal of this paper is to analyze the disciplines of photography and archaeology as separate entities, then connect them in order to understand how photography functions as a tool in archaeology, and understand the importance of archaeological photography in the real-world.






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