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Archeology for Interpreters > 4. What Do Archeologists Do?

How do archeologists identify artifacts?

(photo) 19th century artifacts, including ceramics, bottle glass and oyster shell.

Artifacts from the Locher/Poffenberger cabin site at Antietam National Battlefield. (National Capital Region, Regional Archeology Program, NPS)

Once archeology was almost totally artifact-oriented. Archeologists collected artifacts and categorized them based almost solely on their physical attributes and functions. Gradually, archeologists have shifted objectives, realizing that understanding the people behind the artifacts is more compelling than the artifacts themselves. Today's archeology has turned from simply filling museum cabinets to discovering how people in the past actually lived. To do this, archeologists use various studies to link artifacts, ecofacts, and features with the human behavior that produced them (Thomas 1998:229).

For your information

The National Park Service has several facilities that curate archeological materials:

Midwest Archeological Center, Midwest Region

Museum Resource Center, National Capital Region

Northeast Museum Services Center, Northeast Region

Southeast Archeological Center, Southeast Region