Artifacts | What are Artifacts?

What are Artifacts?

Referred to as artifact in US and Canada and artefact in UK, Europe and Australia, artifacts are those made or given shape to by human, for example a tool or a work of art. Artifacts are usually archaeological objects and the word artifact comes from the Latin phrase arte factum, which means to make. Although the term artifact may be used to describe objects that have ancient, historical or cultural values, in modern layman terms artifact may sometime be even referred to objects that are used to decorate interiors and homes, though it may not be formally recognized. Aside from objects of art, artifacts can have several other definitions. In the sense of archaeology, artifact refers to an object that has been recovered through an archaeological endeavor and has much significance to a culture. An example of such an artifact can be the tombs discovered in the pyramids of Egypt. The definition of artifact in anthropology is similar to archaeology, referring to a product of a society that had been intentionally made by the people of that society. The difference between the archaeological and anthropological definition is that in archaeology, the artifact came from an ancient origin of a culture and is discovered by people, whereas in anthropology, the artifact has been made by present day society.


Some example of artifacts discovered in ancient civilizations through archaeological endeavors can be projectile points, Ming vases or soapstone carvings, pottery vessels and jewellery. Artifacts don’t always have to be of a certain age to be classified as an artifact. Many people tend to have misconceptions that an object can only be considered an artifact if it is of ancient civilizations and of a certain age. Artifacts can be as young as 25 years old or made by people that hold certain level of significance or cultural value in the present day. Fossils recovered of dinosaurs or other animals should not be confused with artifacts. Fossils do not belong to the artifact category and have their own classification. However, if an ancient item is discovered that made use of some form of animal skin or fossil, it can be classified as an artifact. For example, a weapon that is made of a mammoth tusk can be classified as an artifact instead of the tusk being discovered on its own. The classification of such items can get confusing. For an instance, if an archeologist was to discover a grain of rice, it can be a question if the grain of rice can be considered an artifact. If the grain of rice had been discovered in a place where a civilization that grew rice once flourished, the grain can be considered an artifact, otherwise it would be a simple grain of rice with no value.


Artifacts are used to describe things that were man made and did not occur naturally. Although the item may make use of some natural existing matter such as the tusk of the mammoth in the case of the weapon, the object still has to sculpt into a certain object for it to be considered as an artifact. For example if the bones of a dead person are recovered, the bones would not be considered as an artifact but the items that had been buried along with it can be considered as artifacts, such as clothing, pottery, jewelry, coffin or other man made things. If the tooth of the corpse is gold plated, the tooth can be considered as an artifact as it was man made and plated over the tooth.


Artifacts have great importance as they help to relate to present day society what the ancient civilizations considered important. If artifacts had not existed, modern day society would not know half as much as it does about the past. They create a picture of the ancient society, although the picture is often incomplete. Today, artifacts are given much importance in the modern day society and are often used as decorative elements in homes. Many artifacts are sold around the world for great amounts of money, depending on their historical value.

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