An artifact or artefact (from Latin phrase arte factum, from ars skill + facere to make) is "something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest". "Artifact" is the only spelling in North American English, but other varieties of English also accept "artefact" (see spelling differences).
Examples include stone tools, pottery vessels, metal objects such as weapons, and items of personal adornment such as buttons, jewelry and clothing. Other examples include bone that show signs of human modification, fire cracked rocks from a hearth or plant material used for food.
Artifacts can come from any archaeological context or source such as:
- Buried along with a body
- From any feature such as a midden or other domestic setting
- Votive offerings
- Hoards, such as at wells
Artifacts are distinguished from the main body of the archaeological record such as stratigraphic features, which are non-portable remains of human activity, such as hearths, roads, deposits, trenches or similar remains, and from biofacts or 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 artifacts or which may be naturally occurring phenomena that only appear to resemble early objects used by early humans or homo sapiens.
- artefact. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 11th Edition. Retrieved 2nd August 2012 from CollinsDictionary.com website: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/artefact
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