xix Historians traditionally focus their analysis on the written word. Such sources take two forms: primary documents produced at the time under study by people of that time, such as a letter of Cicero, and secondary sources, works that contain specific historical facts and interpretation, such as this one. These categories are convenient but misleading, as secondary sources can refer to histories written in the past too, such as that of Tacitus. Today historians continue to rely on the written word, but they also look to additional resources to investigate the past. Some of the richest sources are artifacts, objects from past cultures. WHAT IS AN ARTIFACT? Artifacts have been defined a number of ways. At its simplest, an artifact is any object made or used by humans. Of note, this broad definition includes objects not made by people but used by them, such as bones, nuts, and seeds. These are sometimes termed ecofacts. All of the artifacts within this book, however, were made by ancient people. Larger groups of artifacts, such as the bakery ovens in Pompeii, are often called features. Archaeologists emphasize the connection between artifacts or groups of artifacts and cul- ture. If the term “artifact” is hard to define, the term “culture” is infinitely more so, but we might view culture as those rules of behavior that a com- munity holds and follows and that help define the community. The study of artifacts is thus a window into a particular culture. WHAT CAN ARTIFACTS TELL US? All artifacts require interpretation, but in general there is some basic informa- tion that they convey. Material objects and features can tell us how houses and settlements were laid out, what people did for a living, what they used, and with whom they may have traded or fought. We might also learn the relative size of a population, what they ate, and perhaps what diseases they had to con- tend with, assuming remains are found and uncontaminated. However, even with these general observations, one is soon in the realm of interpretation. HOW TO EVALUATE ARTIF ACTS
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