When archaeologists started drawing artefacts, photography was barely in its infancy so good draughtsmanship was an essential skill for recording finds.
However, with digital photography we all have access to high definition photos whenever we want them. So, why then do archaeology courses still emphasise the importance of using a pencil and paper to record finds?
Well, surprising as it may seem, the truth is that drawing has two benefits that photography lacks.
Firstly it forces the archaeologist in training to really look at the artefact being examined. If you have to spend a considerable period of time (hours rather than minutes) looking at all aspects of an object you will almost certainly see things you may have missed from a cursory examination. Using your eyes is one of the key skills of archaeology and should be developed and nurtured as a skill. I know of no better learning experience than asking a student to examine something for an hour or two.
Secondly, there are some objects that just don’t photograph particularly well. For example, lithics are famous for being hard to photograph in such a way that all facets are shown.
Of course the one thing that a camera should offer in terms of an improvement over a drawing is accuracy, but even here, archaeologists learn that lenses distort objects and so care must be taken in assuming that an angle in a photograph is a true representation of the same angle on the object.
So, in summary, archaeological illustration is good for recording, interpreting and communicating finds in a way that no other medium can do.