Archaeological Vector Graphics and SVG: A case study from Cricklade

Holly Wright

Department of Archaeology, University of York, King's Manor, York YO1 7EP, UK.


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Currently, there are a variety of ways to make vector-based information available on the Web, but most are browser- and platform-dependent, proprietary, and unevenly supported (Laaker 2002, 13). Of the various solutions currently being explored by the greater Web community, one of the most promising is called Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), which is part of the eXtensible Markup Language (XML). SVG was defined by a working group of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and has subsequently become their official recommendation for representing vector graphics on the Web in XML (Eisenberg 2002, 6; Watt 2002, xviii). Because SVG is an XML application, it is freely available, not dependent on a particular browser or platform, and interoperable with other XML applications. While there is no guarantee that SVG will be widely adopted for rendering vector-based information on the Web, development and recommendation by the W3C generally carries a great deal of weight, especially as browser developers move towards less proprietary support of W3C standards. In addition, use of XML continues to grow, so XML-based solutions like SVG should be explored by those interested in presenting vector graphics on the Web (Harold and Means 2002, 3).

Detail of a section drawing from Cricklade, created in SVG
Detail of a section drawing from Cricklade, created in SVG.

This discussion explores SVG as a potential tool for archaeologists. It includes some of the ways vector graphics are used in archaeology, and outlines the development and features of SVG, which are then demonstrated in the form of a case study. Large-scale plan and section drawings originally created on Permatrace were digitised by Guy Hopkinson for use in the Internet Archaeology publication Excavations at Cricklade, Wiltshire, 1975, by Jeremy Haslam, designed as an exercise in 'retrospective publication', to illustrate how traditional forms of visual recording might be digitised for online publication. Hopkinson went on to publish his methodology jointly with Internet Archaeology editor, Judith Winters in Problems with Permatrace: a note on digital image publication, and generously made these drawings available for the SVG research discussed here. The particular goal, was to use this set of images and re-create them online using SVG, while maintaining the same functionality built into them by Hopkinson, as interpreted for Haslam's publication.

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Last updated: Mon Jul 10 2006