First, there is the task of documentation. Every artifact, as soon as it emerges from the soil in which it has lain, is catalogued and recorded. Field drawings are made immediately. Finished drawings come later.
Archaeology without documentation is merely treasure hunting. An undocumented artifact could sit on a mantlepiece or even in a museum case, but that is all that it can do. If it deteriorates or is lost, it is utterly lost forever.
Along with other documentation, a drawing acts as a permanent, portable proxy. It does not decay. It can be endlessly reproduced and disseminated. And, in most cases, it can be studied in the place of the original object. This is because a good drawing can capture and convey an immense amount of information about the size, shape, form, condition, texture, wear, material, and even manufacture of the artifact.
With this in mind, a documentary drawing should be, above all, accurate. But it also needs to be selective. A camera is indiscriminate; it merely records whatever happens to be in front of its lens. The illustrator works in painstaking detail, but only includes what is useful in recording the object. Here's the difference:
This is the first sense of "up from the dust": an artifact is dug up and recorded. To do so well is a real craft.
The second sense comes from Mortimer Wheeler: "Archaeology is a science that must be lived, must be `seasoned with humanity.' Dead archaeology is the driest dust that blows." - Archaeology from the Earth, 1954
Archaeologists do not (or should not) dig up stone tools to increase their collection of stone tools, or even to study stone tools as an end in itself. Behind every artifact is a person, and behind every archaeologist are the people who sponsor their digs. The end goal of archaeology is to bring the people of the past and the people of the present together. It does not matter whether you are digging for a government institution, a foundation, or a university. You are being supported in some way by the public, and the public deserves to see and hear what you have found. In its zeal in shying away from the sensational, archaeology has too long ignored the public, both failing in completing their calling and allowing their support base to wither.
This does not mean that every publication ought to be "popular". Many reports and articles will be read only within the community, in the course of natural and necessary sharing, debate, and consensus-building. But the digested results must reach the public, and pictures are an excellent medium for this.
And let's not kid ourselves. Archaeologists are people, too. They want the past to come alive before their eyes; that's what brought them to the field in the first place. They want to see beautiful, well-crafted illustrations that bring together a multitude of findings in a coherent whole. So, if you want your article to be read, and to attract the notice of your peers, illustrate it.
To close my first blog post, I want to highlight a drawing by one of my greatest artistic heroes, Jean-Leon Huens. To most of us, Bulgaria in 5,000 B.C.E is an utterly foreign place. We may or may not remember where Bulgaria is. The people who lived there, if any, have no tie to us. They live in a shadow world, along with the innumerable others we neither know nor care about. Then we look at Huens' drawing (National Geographic, July 1980):