It is a truism that archaeology is a profoundly visual discipline; it is paradoxical, then, that so much of its output exhibits a poor level of what here I opt to call visual competence. There are, of course, many glorious exceptions to the picture I will sketch out here (pun probably intended). Yet as someone who returned to the UK university sector to teach archaeology after a decade as a jobbing illustrator and then museum educator and writer working closely with designers, I am as often dismayed as thrilled by the quality of images in many new archaeological publications, and other documents and presentations created by archaeologists for specialist or public consumption. This is an international issue.
Visual producers have a deep and inseparable relationship with the institutionalisation and development of archaeological practice. Their role in articulating concepts, circulating knowledge, refining interpretations, and publicising sites, finds and features – indeed demarcating those sites/finds/features in the first instance – is hardly a point for contention today.