What is an Artifact in Archaeology

Gina Gallacher's image for:
"What is an Artifact in Archaeology"
Image by: 

What Is An Artifact in Archaeology?

An artifact is any object, organic or inorganic, that has been produced or modified by human culture. The study of artifacts, or "finds", is the methodology used by Archaeologists in determining the age of a particular archaeological site. This dating methodology supports and confirms the period of time that the site was inhabited. Examples of such artifacts include stone tools, coins, weapons, jewels, clothing, pottery, plant materials used for food and bones that implicate that there has been human modification. Most artifacts are located at human settlements, battlefields and buried with bodies (called grave goods). The methodology of dating uses various techniques and applications and I have included the basics techniques as follows:

Radiocarbon Dating - is the dating of any organic matter such as plant materials used for food
Thermoluminescence Dating - is the dating of inorganic matter such as pottery and metals
Numismatics - is the dating of coins although many coins have the date imprinted upon them

An important element in understanding the use of artifacts is the ability to interpret what the artifact is telling us. In order to have a full understanding of what the artifact is saying, Archaeologists have to find the answers to the following questions:

What are the properties that we can identify in the artifact? This is achieved by determining the materials used to produce the object, the method that was used to produce the object, the markings and/or inscriptions appearing on the object, how the object was used and why it was created.

Where was the artifact located? Points that archaeologists have to consider are whether the object was produced at that particular site or has it made a journey from elsewhere. This is achieved by looking at the materials used in the object and if they were readily available at that particular site.

When was the artifact produced? This, as well, has many determining factors such as the materials used, the location the object was found and the method of production.

Who was the artifact produced for? The question here is what people used the artifact? If an archaeologist knows who the object was made for it increases the chances of accurately dating the artifact.

Why was the artifact produced? Factors that archaeologists have to consider in order to answer this question may be what values were given to the artifact for both those who made the object and for those who use the object, the importance of this particular artifact in history and the role or use of the artifact when it was first produced.

Excellent Resources:

More about this author: Gina Gallacher

From Around the Web