This article is about the archaeological concept of artifacts (or artefacts). For other definitions, see Artifact (disambiguation).
In archaeology, an artifact or artefact is any object made by a human culture, and often one later recovered by some archaeological endeavor. Common examples include stone tools such as projectile points, pottery vessels such as amphorae, metal objects such as buttons or guns and items of personal adornment such as jewellery and clothing.
The study of these objects is an important part of the field of archaeology, although the degree to which they represent the social groupings that created them is a subject over which archaeological theoreticians argue. Focusing on the artifact alone can produce very intensive and enlightening work on the object itself but can ignore surrounding factors which may shed further light on the manufacturing society. Traditional museums are often criticised for being too artifact-led, that is by displaying items without any contextual information about their purpose or the people who made them.
Artifacts can come from a number of sources:
- Buried along with a body. (see: grave goods)
- From a midden or other domestic setting
- Votive offerings
Artifacts are distinguished from features, which are nonportable remains of human activity, such as hearths, roads, or house remains, and from biofacts (also called ecofacts), which are objects of archaeological interest made by other organisms, such as seeds or animal bone.
Natural objects which have been moved but not changed by humans are called manuports. Examples would include seashells moved inland or rounded pebbles placed away from the water action that would have fashioned them.
These distinctions are often blurred; for instance, 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 which may be crude artefacts or which may be naturally occurring phenomena that only appear to have been used by humans.