A cultural artifact, or cultural artefact (see American and British English spelling differences
), is a term used in the social sciences
, particularly anthropology
for anything created by human
s 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 site
s, 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:
[Wartofsky, Marx W. (1979). Models: Representation and scientific understanding. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel.]
* 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).
* Art object
* Cultural icon
* Habib, Laurence, and Line Wittek (2007). The portfolio as artifact and actor. ''Mind, Culture and Activity'', Vol. 14, No. 4, .