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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

Artifacts: Now What?
Read about the processing and analysis of artifacts in the laboratory.

Try it yourself

Try it: for kids!
Find a partner and try a trash can dig!

Case study

Fair Trade?
Learn how archeologists are using artifacts they have excavated to reconstruct the trade network between Jamestown's English colonists and the local Indians.