This site requires a modern browser with javascript enabled for full functionality

For the best experience, please use the latest version of one of these browsers:



Artefacts are, as the name suggests, objects which have been chosen, made and used by humans. This broad category covers anything from a simple pebble picked for its perfect roundness to be used as a sling-shot, to complex manufactured objects such as fine ornamental jewellery, machinery or furniture.  Except in cases where a natural object, such as the sling-shot, can serve a function without modification, artefacts are ‘worked’ -they are modified, shaped, heated, structured and decorated by humans. 

When artefacts are discovered during excavations or surveys, they are usually termed ‘finds’.  People today discover artefacts which have been lost, discarded, hidden, deliberately deposited or just simply abandoned by people in the past. Studying the manufacture, use, re-use and patterns of discard of artefacts can help archaeologists understand aspects of past societies such as agriculture, trade and belief systems. Since the recognition nearly two hundred years ago that worked stone tools are associated with traces of a very early human presence, archaeologists have developed a vast and complex understanding of how artefacts have reflected the history of human culture. Natural materials such as stone, flint, bone and wood were used to create the earliest artefacts, but of course these materials have remained in use ever since.  New materials requiring manufacturing skills and raw materials, such as metals, ceramics and glass, have been introduced as technology has changed over the centuries.  Artefacts have been divided and classified into thousands of types and sub-types, based on function, date, technology and decorative styles. For some artefacts, such as coins, the known types are extremely detailed and can often be used identified and dated accurately.
There are far too many categories of artefacts for any individual to know all of them in detail.  Experts who have in-depth knowledge of artefacts of one type or from one period, identify and interpret these discoveries. 
Finds can be used to date layers on excavations if the archaeologist is sure that they belong to that general period of activity on the site (this is usually because there are other similar finds in related deposits). These are called ‘stratified’ artefacts.  Where an artefact has been dug up and re-deposited later in the history of the site (such as a piece of Roman pottery which became mixed up with medieval midden material), it is called a ‘residual’ artefact