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Alternative spellings

  • artefact (Commonwealth)
  • artifact (N. Amer.)


Latin ars, artis art, factum something made (or arte facto, made by art)

For lessons on the topic of Artifacts (Relics), follow this link.


  1. An object made by human hand or shaped by it.
  2. An object, such as a tool, weapon or ornament, of archaeological or historical interest, esp. such an object found at an archaeological excavation.
    • The dig produced many Roman artifacts.
  3. Something viewed as a product of human conception or agency rather than an inherent element.
    • "The very act of looking at a naked model was an artifact of male supremacy" (Philip Weiss).
    Ref: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 08 Mar. 2007.
  4. In an experiment or investigation, a structure or feature, which does not occur naturally in the object under observation, but is a result of external action, the test arrangement or an experimental error.
    • The shadow on the lungs turned out to be an artifact of the X-ray process.


A cultural artifact is a human-made object which gives information about the culture of its creator and users. The artifact may change over time in what it represents, how it appears and how and why it is used as the culture changes over time. The usage of the term encompasses the type of archaeological artifact which is recovered at archaeological sites; however, man-made objects of modern society are also cultural artifacts. For example, in an anthropological context, a television is an artifact of modern culture.

Social artifact is any product of individuals or groups (social beings) or of their social behavior. Artifacts are the objects or products designed and used by people to meet re-occurring needs or to solve problems. An example of a common social artifact is a document.

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

- 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


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

Wartofsky, Marx W. (1973). Models: Representation and scientific understanding. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel.