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9.2: Activity 1 - Artifact Classification

  • Page ID
    74784
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    In this exercise, you will sort and classify artifacts, which are also called material culture, and explore their physio-chemical and contextual attributes and functions.

    1. Classify the prehistoric materials into groups. It is up to you to decide how many groups to sort them into and what the criteria will be. Once you have finished, list the groups you created and their characteristics.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    1. Classify the modern material into groups. Once again, it is up to you to decide how many groups to sort them into and what the criteria for each group will be. Once you have finished, list the groups you created and their characteristics.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    1. Now, re-group the modern artifacts by color. (Remember, each color is an attribute state.) How many colors (attribute states) did you come up with? List them here.

     

     

     

     

    1. Do some of the artifacts in each small color group appear to have any other attributes in common? Give at least one example.

     

     

    1. Do the color attribute groups tell you anything about what the artifacts were used for or provide any information about an aspect of human behavior? Why or why not?

     

     

     

     

    1. Group the modern artifacts by material, such as metal, wood, and plastic. How many materials (attribute states) did you come up with? List them here.

     

     

     

     

    1. Does the material attribute category provide more information about the artifacts than the color category? If so, how?

     

     

     

     

    1. Now, group the modern artifacts by their apparent function by creating categories for items with a similar purpose, activity, or use. Remember, the items in a functional group do not have to be the same “thing.” Give each category a name and list them here (miscellaneous can be one of the categories).

     

     

     

     

    1. Note which of the artifacts in your functional groups differ in terms of attributes. How so?

     

     

     

     

     

    1. Now let’s look at contextual attributes, specifically associations and provenience. Group together artifacts that you think might be found in association with one another (e.g., school supplies). Are these groups broader (more inclusive) than the previous groups?

     

     

     

     

    1. Select a group of artifacts that might have been found in association with one another and think about a likely provenience for this group. Where might you find this cluster of artifacts?

     

     

     

    Now think back to what was discussed in lectures and readings. The interpretive potential of an artifact often depends on its context (including contextual attributes, the matrix, provenience, and associations). For example, discovery of a pencil clustered with other school supplies and located inside the drawer of a desk could allow you to make inferences about the pencil’s function and its role in the cultural system.

    Dealing with modern objects is relatively easy since you likely know what they are and what they are used for. What about the prehistoric artifacts?

    1. Briefly experiment with grouping the ancient artifacts using their contextual attributes, matrix, provenience, and associations. Is it more difficult to group the prehistoric artifacts by function? Why?

     

     

     

     

    What we really need to know here is the context, right? If someone handed you a pot sherd, you might be able to record a few of its physio-chemical attributes, but little significant information is communicated when you don’t know where it came from. What was found in association with it? What kind of feature was it found in? What kind of site? What region?

    Obviously, classifying archaeological artifacts is challenging, and context and provenience are critically important when interpreting an artifact’s role in the ancient past!

     


    This page titled 9.2: Activity 1 - Artifact Classification is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Darcy L. Wiewall (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .