How do archeologists identify artifacts?
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