What Are Examples of Cultural Artifacts?

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Examples of cultural artifacts include almost anything – from pots and books, to religious items, clothing, and tools or gadgets. A cultural artifact is any artifact or item that sheds light on the way a particular society lived, thought or otherwise expressed itself. Because this definition is so broad, the entailing list of artifacts that might qualify as such is similarly vast.

When examining cultural artifacts, specialists, such as archaeologists and anthropologists, pay close attention to several things. They may ask if the item tells a story, if it has embedded symbolism or if it illuminates the cultural or social attitudes of the item’s producers toward a specific topic. For example, a statue of a Stone Age fertility goddess may reveal what people of that time thought about women.

Some specialists have endeavored to offer classification systems for cultural artifacts. The Wartofsky system establishes three tiers: primary artifacts, secondary artifacts, and tertiary artifacts. Primary artifacts are those used in production (i.e. a utensil or camera), while secondary artifacts are representations of primary artifacts, and tertiary artifacts are representations of secondary artifacts.

Despite their comparable newness, even modern innovations can be esteemed as cultural artifacts given context and interpretation. Cell phones, for example, illustrate how people within modern society have eased and streamlined opportunities for communication. The Internet similarly displays an enhanced capacity for global outreach and, consequently and paradoxically, the creation of a world where perhaps social and cultural differences are less significant.