How to Evaluate Artifacts xxi theories are plausible, but without further information we cannot say for sure what purpose they served. INTERPRETATION There are different ways to approach the study of an artifact, but most meth- ods begin with the basics: What is it? What is its origin? What is it made of? Who made it? It is typical? How old is it? What purpose did it serve? Answers to these questions are not always readily apparent, but in some cases the artifact can provide such information. The Roman milestone dis- cussed in this book is a good example. Because we can know the language on the stone, Latin, we can translate it and discover the answers to several of these basic questions. We cannot say who made it, but we do know who commissioned it: an emperor and his son. We know when that emperor ruled, so we can posit a date range for when the milestone was placed. We know where it was found and what sort of stone was used. We also know, from the words on the stone and other sources, what the stone was for: marking the distance from one place to another. These are first steps. Next, we must ask additional questions: So what? Why is this stone significant? What does it tell us about the people who made it and used it? This is far more difficult and normally requires addi- tional investigation. Combing through primary and secondary sources to search for ancient references or images and to see what other scholars have had to say about an artifact is often the next step. Most scholarship is built upon the work of those who have previously studied a topic—one might have something new to say about it, but a thorough look through what has already been said is a must. This saves time and effort but also prevents duplication of work and provides the researcher with a solid foundation upon which to start his or her own study of an artifact. The research phase also helps frame additional questions. Once one has a basic knowledge of an artifact, it is easier to investigate what are often more difficult topics, such as manufacture and purpose. One can often determine, for example, whether an item was most likely the product of a small work- shop or was mass-produced and, perhaps, where it was made. Details about use and traditions associated with an artifact may also emerge. A particular votive item, for example, may have been described in a source or depicted in art and indicate more precisely how the object was used. It is often during the research phase when one also learns about conventions surrounding an arti- fact. For instance, there is an entire field of study in ancient inscriptions, from letter styles to abbreviations, and more often than not one must consult works on these topics in order to translate and make sense of even short in- scriptions. Returning to the milestone example, while only a few sentences long, this inscription employs a lot of formulaic language, such as imperial titles, that appear in many similar examples. By acquainting oneself with
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