University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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SVG Pottery: upgrading pottery publications to the Web age
Stefano Costa

Last modified: 2011-12-21


In this paper I deal with a very specific (but very large) subset of archaeological data: pottery drawings. I explore SVG as a format for publishing pottery drawings on the Web.

SVG is a well-known standard (W3C) format for vector graphics on the Web, and is getting major support from all browsers. It has rich graphical capabilities, but it’s not without issues for representing real objects (or pieces of them). SVG is used in archaeology, but not widely. I will argue that this is because in archaeological vector graphics there’s a focus on software rather than documents, and that this poses several problems.

The main problem when not using SVG is that publishing and disseminating on the Web is difficult, if not impossible. DXF or DWG are common formats for pottery drawings, mainly because they guarantee good-quality printed graphics ‒ or should we say that AutoCAD does ‒ but as common as they might be they have no place on the Web.

Among the reasons why SVG is important in this specific case, some are significant for the purpose of sustainability. First of all, SVG can be used for disseminating high-quality vector graphics on the Web instead of raster images: these files can be processed in a number of ways, most still unexplored, but the choice of this format leaves all possibilities open. Secondly, SVG works across most vector graphics programs, and has a rich community focused around the format and not the software. Finally, dissemination on the Web might be among the best ways to preserve such data, and a suitable format is needed.

SVG is not without problems though:

●     a lack of native support for units (i.e. expressing the vector data in real units and not in pixels) can be worked around only with complex procedures

●     all programs have specific ways of dealing with layers, that are not part of the native SVG 1.1 specification

A set of best practices on how to use SVG for publishing pottery drawings will follow the general introduction, with examples and discussion focused on the issues still open, both for simple drawing and publishing workflows and for more complex processing environments. These best practices are being developed in the open and are available at


SVG; Archaeological pottery; Web publishing