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Cultural artifact

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Nikon D200 Digital Camera

A cultural artifact, or cultural artefact (see American and British English spelling differences), is a term used in the social sciences, particularly anthropology,[1] ethnology[2] and sociology[citation needed] for anything created by humans which gives information about the culture of its creator and users. Artifact is the spelling in North American English; artefact is usually preferred elsewhere.

Cultural artifact is a more generic term and should be considered with two words of similar, but narrower, nuance: it can include objects recovered from archaeological sites, i.e. archaeological artifacts, but can also include objects of modern or early-modern society, or social artifacts. For example, in an anthropological context: a 17th-century lathe, a piece of faience, or a television each provides a wealth of information about the time in which they were manufactured and used.

Cultural artifacts, whether ancient or current, have a significance because they offer an insight into: technological processes, economic development and social structure, among other attributes.


The philosopher Marx W. Wartofsky categorised artifacts as follows:[3]

  • primary artifacts: used in production (such as a hammer, a fork, a lamp or a camera);
  • secondary artifacts: relating to primary artifacts (such as a user-manual for a camera);
  • tertiary artifacts: representations of secondary artifacts (such as a picture of a user-manual for a camera).

Social artifacts, unlike archaeological artifacts, do not need to have a physical form (for example virtual artifact), nor to be of historical value (items created seconds ago can be classified as social artifacts).


  1. ^ Richard J. Watts (1981). The pragmalinguistic analysis of narrative texts. Gunter Narr Verlag. ISBN 978-3-87808-443-3.
  2. ^ Rob Amery. Warrabarna Kaurna!.
  3. ^ Wartofsky, Marx W. (1979). Models: Representation and scientific understanding. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel.

Further reading[edit]

  • Habib, Laurence, and Line Wittek (2007). The portfolio as artifact and actor. Mind, Culture and Activity, Vol. 14, No. 4, ISSN 1074-9039.

External links[edit]