Cultural artifact

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Cultural artifact (or social artifact) 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. Usage of this term encompasses the type of archaeological artifact which is recovered at archaeological sites; however, current objects of modern or near-modern society are also cultural artifacts. For example, in an anthropological context, a 17th-century lathe, a piece of faience, or a television each provide a wealth of information about the time in which they were manufactured and used. Cultural artifacts can provide knowledge about technological processes, economy and social makeup, and a host of other subjects.

The philosopher Marx W. Wartofsky distinguished several types of artifacts:[3]

  • primary artifacts, which are used in production (e.g., a hammer, a fork, a lamp, a camera, etc.)
  • secondary artifacts, which are representations of primary artifacts (e.g., a user manual for a camera)
  • tertiary artifacts, which are representations of secondary artifacts

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

See also[edit]


  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]