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An artifact, or artefact (see
American and British English spelling differences Despite the various English dialects spoken from country to country and within different regions of the same country, there are only slight regional variations in English orthography, the two most notable variations being British and America ...
), is a general term for an item made or given shape by humans, such as a tool or a work of art, especially an object of archaeological interest. In
archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered a branch of socio-cultural anthropology, but archaeologists also draw from biological, geological ...
, the word has become a term of particular nuance and is defined as an object recovered by archaeological endeavor, which may be a
cultural artifact Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior Social behavior is behavior among two or more organisms within the same species, and encompasses any behavior in which one member affects the other. This is due to an int ...
having
cultural Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior Social behavior is behavior among two or more organisms within the same species, and encompasses any behavior in which one member affects the other. This is due to an int ...
interest. Artifact is the general term used in archaeology, while in museums the equivalent general term is normally "object", and in
art history
art history
perhaps
artwork A work of art, artwork, art piece, piece of art or art object is an artistic creation of aesthetic value. Except for "work of art", which may be used of any work regarded as art Art is a diverse range of (products of) hum ...

artwork
or a more specific term such as "carving". The same item may be called all or any of these in different contexts, and more specific terms will be used when talking about individual objects, or groups of similar ones. Artifacts exist in many different forms and can sometimes be confused with
ecofacts In archaeology, a biofact (or ecofact) is organic material found at an archaeological site that carries archaeological significance. Biofacts are natural objects found alongside Artifact (archaeology), artifacts or feature (archaeology), features ...
and
features Feature may refer to: Computing * Feature (CAD), could be a hole, pocket, or notch * Feature (computer vision), could be an edge, corner or blob * Feature (software design) is an intentional distinguishing characteristic of a software item ( ...
; all three of these can sometimes be found together at archaeological sites. They can also exist in different types of context depending on the processes that have acted on them over time. A wide variety of analyses take place to analyze artifacts and provide information on them. However, the process of analyzing artifacts through scientific archaeology can be hindered by the looting and collecting of artifacts, which sparks ethical debate.


Context

Artifacts can come from any
archaeological context This page is a glossary of archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered a branch of socio-cultural anthropology, but archaeologist ...
or source such as: *
Buried Buried may refer to: Television episodes * Buried (Breaking Bad), "Buried" (''Breaking Bad'') * Buried (Fear the Walking Dead), "Buried" (''Fear the Walking Dead'') * Buried (Law & Order: UK), "Buried" (''Law & Order: UK'') * Buried (Prison Break), ...

Buried
along with a
body Body may refer to: In science * Physical body, an object in physics that represents a large amount, has mass or takes up space * Body (biology), the physical material of an organism * Body plan, the physical features shared by a group of animals ...

body
* From any
feature Feature may refer to: Computing * Feature (CAD), could be a hole, pocket, or notch * Feature (computer vision), could be an edge, corner or blob * Feature (software design) is an intentional distinguishing characteristic of a software item ( ...
such as a
midden A midden (also kitchen midden or shell heap) is an old dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone A bone is a Stiffness, rigid tissue (anatomy), tissue that constitutes part of the skeleton in most vertebrate animals. Bones ...
or other domestic setting *
Votive offering A votive offering or votive deposit is one or more objects displayed or deposited, without the intention of recovery or use, in a sacred Sacred describes something that is dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity A ...
s *
Hoard A hoard or "wealth deposit" is an archaeological Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered a branch of socio-cultural anthropology, but ...

Hoard
s, such as in
wells Wells most commonly refers to: * Wells, Somerset, a cathedral city in Somerset, England * Well, an excavation or structure created in the ground * Wells (name) Wells may also refer to: Places ;Canada *Wells, British Columbia ;England * Wells ( ...

wells
Examples include
stone tool A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of Rock (geology), stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistory, prehisto ...

stone tool
s,
pottery Pottery is the process and the products of forming vessels and other objects with and other materials, which are fired at high temperatures to give them a hard, durable form. Major types include , and . The place where such wares are mad ...

pottery
vessels, metal objects such as weapons and items of personal adornment such as
buttons In modern clothing A kanga, worn throughout the African Great Lakes region Clothing (also known as clothes, apparel, and attire) are items worn on the body. Typically, clothing is made of fabrics or textiles, but over time it has inclu ...

buttons
,
jewelry Jewellery or jewelry consists of decorative items worn for personal adornment 150px, The principal adornment of these girls from the Bundu tribe in Sierra Leone is the adornment of bodies and faces with markings produced by the smearing on by ...

jewelry
and clothing.
Bone A bone is a rigid tissue Tissue may refer to: Biology * Tissue (biology), an ensemble of similar cells that together carry out a specific function * ''Triphosa haesitata'', a species of geometer moth found in North America * ''Triphosa dubit ...

Bone
s that show signs of human modification are also examples. Natural objects, such as fire cracked rocks from a
hearth A hearth is the place in a where a is or was traditionally kept for home heating and for , usually constituted by at least a horizontal hearthstone and often enclosed to varying degrees by any combination of , , , smoke hood, or . Hearths a ...

hearth
or plant material used for food, are classified by archaeologists as
ecofacts In archaeology, a biofact (or ecofact) is organic material found at an archaeological site that carries archaeological significance. Biofacts are natural objects found alongside Artifact (archaeology), artifacts or feature (archaeology), features ...
rather than as artifacts. Artifacts exist as a result of
behavioral Behavior (American English) or behaviour (British English; American and British English spelling differences#-our, -or, see spelling differences) is the Action (philosophy), actions and mannerisms made by individuals, organisms, systems or Arti ...
and transformational processes. A behavioral process involves acquiring
raw material A raw material, also known as a feedstock, unprocessed material, or primary commodity, is a basic material that is used to produce goods, finished Product (business), products, energy, or intermediate materials that are feedstock for future finis ...
s, manufacturing these for a specific purpose and then discarding after use. Transformational processes begin at the end of behavioral processes; this is when the artifact is changed by nature and/or humans after is has been deposited. Both of these processes are significant factors in evaluating the
context Context may refer to: * Context (language use), the relevant constraints of the communicative situation that influence language use, language variation, and discourse summary. Computing * Context (computing), the virtual environment required to ...
of an artifact. The context of an artifact can be broken into two categories: primary context and secondary context. A
matrix Matrix or MATRIX may refer to: Science and mathematics * Matrix (mathematics), a rectangular array of numbers, symbols, or expressions * Matrix (logic), part of a formula in prenex normal form * Matrix (biology), the material in between a eukaryoti ...
is a physical setting within which an artifact exists, and a provenience refers to a specific location within a matrix. When an artifact is found in the realm of primary context, the matrix and provenience have not been changed by transformational processes. However, the matrix and provenience are changed by transformational processes when referring to secondary context. Artifacts exist in both contexts, and this is taken into account during the analysis of them. Artifacts are distinguished from stratigraphic features and ecofacts.
Stratigraphic through Jurassic The Jurassic ( ) is a Geological period, geologic period and System (stratigraphy), stratigraphic system that spanned from the end of the Triassic Period million years ago (Mya) to the beginning of the Cretaceous Period, approxi ...
features Feature may refer to: Computing * Feature (CAD), could be a hole, pocket, or notch * Feature (computer vision), could be an edge, corner or blob * Feature (software design) is an intentional distinguishing characteristic of a software item ( ...
are non-portable remains of human activity that include
hearth A hearth is the place in a where a is or was traditionally kept for home heating and for , usually constituted by at least a horizontal hearthstone and often enclosed to varying degrees by any combination of , , , smoke hood, or . Hearths a ...

hearth
s,
road A road is a wide way leading from one place to another, typically one with a specially prepared surface which vehicles and bikes can use. Roads consist of one or two roadway A carriageway (British English British English (BrE) is the ...

road
s, deposits, trenches and similar remains.
Ecofacts In archaeology, a biofact (or ecofact) is organic material found at an archaeological site that carries archaeological significance. Biofacts are natural objects found alongside Artifact (archaeology), artifacts or feature (archaeology), features ...
, also referred to as biofacts, are objects of archaeological interest made by other organisms, such as
seed A seed is an embryonic ''Embryonic'' is the twelfth studio album by experimental rock band the Flaming Lips released on October 13, 2009, on Warner Bros. Records, Warner Bros. The band's first double album, it was released to generally positi ...

seed
s or
animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular A multicellular organism is an organism In biology, an organism () is any organic, life, living system that functions as an individual entity. All organisms are composed of cells ...

animal
bone A bone is a rigid tissue Tissue may refer to: Biology * Tissue (biology), an ensemble of similar cells that together carry out a specific function * ''Triphosa haesitata'', a species of geometer moth found in North America * ''Triphosa dubit ...

bone
. Natural objects that humans have moved but not changed are called manuports. Examples include seashells moved inland or rounded pebbles placed away from the water action that made them. These distinctions are often blurred; a bone removed from an animal carcass is a biofact but a bone carved into a useful implement is an artifact. Similarly there can be debate over early stone objects that could be either crude artifacts or naturally occurring and happen to resemble early objects made by
early humans ''Homo'' () is the genus that emerged in the (otherwise extinct) genus '' Australopithecus'' that encompasses the extant species ''Homo sapiens Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characte ...
or ''
Homo sapiens Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread species of primate, characterized by bipedality, bipedalism and large, complex brains. This has enabled the development of advanced tools, culture, and language. Humans are highl ...

Homo sapiens
''. It can be difficult to distinguish the differences between actual man-made artifacts and geofacts – naturally occurring lithics that resemble man-made tools. It is possible to authenticate artifacts by examining the general characteristics attributed to man-made tools and local characteristics of the site. Artifacts, features and ecofacts can all be located together at sites. Sites may include different arrangements of the three; some might include all of them while others might only include one or two. Sights can have clear boundaries in the form of walls and
moat A moat is a deep, broad ditch, either dry or filled with water, that is dug and surrounds a castle A castle is a type of structure built during the predominantly by the or royalty and by . Scholars debate the scope of the word ''castl ...

moat
s, but this is not always the case. Sites can be distinguished through categories, such as location and past functions. How artifacts exist at these sites can provide archaeological insight. An example of this would be utilizing the position and depth of buried artifacts to determine a chronological timeline for past occurrences at the site. Modern archaeologists take care to distinguish
material culture Material culture is the aspect of social reality Social reality is distinct from biological reality Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent within a system, as opposed to that which is only Object of the mind, imaginar ...

material culture
from
ethnicity An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of people who identity (social science), identify with each other on the basis of shared attributes that distinguish them from other groups. Those attributes can include common sets of traditions, ancest ...

ethnicity
, which is often more complex, as expressed by Carol Kramer in the dictum "pots are not people."


Analysis

Artifact analysis is determined by what type of artifact is being examined.
Lithic analysis In archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered a branch of socio-cultural anthropology, but archaeologists also draw from biolo ...
refers to analyzing artifacts that are created with stones and are often in the form of tools. Stone artifacts occur often throughout prehistoric times and are, therefore, a crucial aspect in answering archaeological questions about the past. On the surface, artifacts can help archaeologists study how technology has developed throughout history by showing a variety of tools and manufacturing techniques from different periods of time. However, even deeper questions can be answered through this type of analysis; these questions can revolve around topics that include how societies were organized and structured in terms of socialization and the distribution of goods. The following lab techniques all contribute to the process of lithic analysis:
petrographic Petrography is a branch of petrology Image:LvMS-Lvm.jpg, A volcanic lithic fragment (geology), sand grain seen under the microscope, with plane-polarized light in the upper picture, and cross polarized light in the lower picture. Scale box is 0. ...
analysis,
neutron activation Neutron activation is the process in which neutron radiation induced radioactivity, induces radioactivity in materials, and occurs when atomic nucleus, atomic nuclei capture free neutrons, becoming heavier and entering excited states. The excited n ...
,
x-ray fluorescence X-ray fluorescence (XRF) is the emission of characteristic "secondary" (or fluorescent) X-rays from a material that has been excited by being bombarded with high-energy X-rays or gamma rays. The phenomenon is widely used for elemental analysis and ...
, particle-induced x-ray emission, individual analysis and
mass Mass is the quantity Quantity is a property that can exist as a multitude or magnitude, which illustrate discontinuity and continuity. Quantities can be compared in terms of "more", "less", or "equal", or by assigning a numerical value ...
analysis. Another type of artifact analysis is
ceramic A ceramic is any of the various hard, brittle, heat-resistant and corrosion-resistant Corrosion is a Erosion, natural process that converts a refined metal into a more chemically stable form such as oxide, hydroxide, carbonate or sulfide. ...

ceramic
analysis, which is based around the archaeological study of
pottery Pottery is the process and the products of forming vessels and other objects with and other materials, which are fired at high temperatures to give them a hard, durable form. Major types include , and . The place where such wares are mad ...

pottery
. This type of analysis can help archaeologists gain information on the raw materials that were used and how they were utilized in the creation of pottery. Laboratory techniques that allow for this are mainly based around
spectroscopy Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction Interaction is a kind of action that occurs as two or more objects have an effect upon one another. The idea of a two-way effect is essential in the concept of interaction, as opposed to a one-way ...

spectroscopy
. The different types of spectroscopy used include , electrothermal atomic absorption, inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission and
x-ray fluorescence X-ray fluorescence (XRF) is the emission of characteristic "secondary" (or fluorescent) X-rays from a material that has been excited by being bombarded with high-energy X-rays or gamma rays. The phenomenon is widely used for elemental analysis and ...
. Ceramic analysis does more than just provide information on
raw material A raw material, also known as a feedstock, unprocessed material, or primary commodity, is a basic material that is used to produce goods, finished Product (business), products, energy, or intermediate materials that are feedstock for future finis ...
s and pottery production; it helps provide insight to past societies in terms of their technology, economy and social structure. Additionally,
fauna Fauna is all of the animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the Kingdom (biology), biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals Heterotroph, consume organic material, Cellular r ...

fauna
l analysis exists to study artifacts in the form of animal remains. Just as with lithic artifacts, faunal remains are extremely common within the field of archaeology. Faunal analysis provides insight to trade due to animals being exchanged in different markets over time and being traded over long distances. Faunal remains can also provide information on social status, ethnic distinctions and dieting from previous
complex societies A complex society is a concept that is shared by a range of disciplines including anthropology Anthropology is the Science, scientific study of humanity, concerned with human behavior, human biology, cultures, and society, societies, in both ...
. Dating artifacts and providing them with a chronological timeline is a crucial part of artifact analysis. The different types of analyses above can all assist in the process of artifact dating. The major types of dating include
relative dating Relative dating is the science of determining the relative order of past events (i.e., the age of an object in comparison to another), without necessarily determining their absolute age (i.e. estimated age). In geology, rock Rock most often ref ...
, historical dating and
typology Typology is the study of types or the systematic classification of the types of something according to their common characteristics. Typology is the act of finding, counting and classification facts with the help of eyes, other senses and logic. Typ ...
. Relative dating occurs when artifacts are placed in a specific order in relation to one another while historical dating occurs for periods of written evidence; relative dating was the only form of dating for prehistoric periods of time. Typology is the process that groups together artifacts that are similar in material and shape. This strategy is based around the ideas that styles of objects match certain time periods and that these styles change slowly over time.


Ethics

Artifact collecting and looting has sparked heavy debate in the archaeological realm. Looting in archaeological terms is when artifacts are dug up from sites and collected in private or sold before they are able to be excavated and analyzed through formal scientific archaeology. The debate is centered around the difference in beliefs between collectors and archaeologists. Archaeologists are focused on excavation, context and lab work when it comes to artifacts, while collectors are motivated by varying personal desires. This brings many to ask themselves the archaeological question, “Who owns the past?” There are also ethical issues over the display of artifacts in museums which have been taken from other countries in questionable circumstances, for example the display of the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles by the
British Museum The British Museum, in the Bloomsbury Bloomsbury is a district in the West End of London The West End of London (commonly referred to as the West End) is a district of Central London Central London is the innermost part of Lond ...

British Museum
. The display of objects belonging to
indigenous peoples Indigenous peoples, also referred to as first peoples, first nations, aboriginal peoples, native peoples (with these terms often capitalized when referred to relating to specific countries), or autochthonous peoples, are culturally distinct e ...
of non-European countries by European museums – particularly those taken during the European conquest of Africa – has also raised ethical questions.
Pan-African Pan-Africanism is a worldwide movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all indigenous and diaspora ethnic groups of African descent. Based on a common goal dating back to the Atlantic slave trade The Atla ...
activists such as Mwazulu Diyabanza and the ''Front Multi Culturel Anti-Spoliation'' (Multicultural Front Against Pillaging) have taken
direct action Direct action originated as a political activism, activist term for economic and political acts in which the actors use their power (e.g. economic power, economic or physical) to directly reach certain goals of interest; in contrast to those a ...
against European museums, aiming to restitute items they believe to belong to Africa.


See also


Notes


References


External links


Artifact Collection
at the Royal Military College of Canada Museum in
Kingston, Ontario Kingston is a city in Ontario, Canada. It is located on the eastern end of Lake Ontario, at the beginning of the St. Lawrence River and at the mouth of the Cataraqui River (south end of the Rideau Canal). The city is midway between Toronto, Ont ...
{{DEFAULTSORT:Artifact (Archaeology) Archaeological terminology Historical objects