Accurately estimating vessel volume from profile illustrations

Louise M. Senior, Dunbar P Birnie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


The highly fragmented nature of most archaeological ceramic assemblages makes whole or reconstructible vessels valuable and rare finds. Vessel volume has rarely been systematically quantified because convenient reconstruction methods dealing with sherds and partial vessels have been lacking. Now, with the method presented in this paper, highly accurate volumetric capacities of fragmented vessels can be calculated from carefully prepared vessel profile illustrations. The profile is digitized using a small number of points per vessel (20 to 30 points are usually sufficient). These data are then converted to a volumetric measure using a computerized algorithm based on the geometry of stacked bevel-walled cylinders. This method of determining vessel volumes was tested and shown to be highly repeatable and accurate. Quantifiable sources of error are generally limited to less than one percent per vessel, with the final accuracy limited chiefly by the quality of illustration. With this computerized technique, fragmented vessels no longer need to be fully reconstructed in order to obtain volumetric information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-334
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Antiquity
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Archaeology
  • Museology

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