History

What is an artifact?

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Have you ever been to a museum exhibit featuring things from people of past cultures, like what remains of their clothes, tools, dishes, or weapons? If so, then you've seen some artifacts!

An artifact is an item that was made and used by people.

Clay pots, beads, scrolls, and even buttons are all types of artifacts. Scientists use artifacts to find out helpful and interesting things about the people who came before us!

Most artifacts are dug out from the ground ("excavated") by archaeologists, who are experts in studying past cultures based on the artifacts and other findings those people left behind. Artifacts can reveal all kinds of awesome clues and discoveries. For example, an artifact of clothing can help us know not only what people wore, but what their temperature might have been like! An artifact's location can be equally helpful; finding hunting tools can tell us what kinds of animals lived in the area!

Exploration

Be an archaeologist! You might think of artifacts as items that are really, really old, like from when the dinosaurs were alive. But not all artifacts have to be prehistoric! Artifacts from more recent cultures (even ones for which we have written histories!) can be equally important. Next time you find an object, think about it from an archeologist's perspective! Study the object where it is, remembering not to pick it up or touch it in case it's dirty. What can you learn from it? For example, if you find a pen on the ground in a park a few steps away from a notepad, maybe they belonged to a poet who was composing beautiful new work!

Further Information

The word "artifact" usually refers to moveable objects. Bigger objects, like structures, are called "features." Artifacts that are natural items (animal or plan remains) are known as "ecofacts."