xxii How to Evaluate Artifacts the conventions in imperial nomenclature, it is far easier to decipher the milestone’s message. ARTIFACTS AND SIGNIFICANCE Ultimately the goal in studying an artifact is to learn something about the peo- ple who made, used, and valued it. All the time spent in research, all the time spent examining the artifact itself, serves to answer one question: What does this object tell us about this society? As you will see in the following pages, artifacts can tell us quite a lot, but a word of caution is in order too. It is some- times easy to conclude that a specific artifact was somehow responsible for the success or failure of a people. A classic example for Rome is the old theory that lead pipes poisoned the population and brought down an empire. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, one will still hear this theory! Perspective, thus, is important. For example, the adoption of the gladius, a short sword, by Roman legionaries was not, all on its own, the reason for their success in battle. However, the changes to the military in adopting that weapon and in adding different defensive equipment, throwing spears, and more mobile fighting teams did make a difference. The gladius, therefore, symbolizes a major shift in Roman military thinking, one that ended up making all the difference for many centuries to come. As you examine the artifacts presented in this book, consider not only the artifact itself but also what it suggests, what it demonstrates about Roman life, customs, and culture. What does it tell you about those who made, bought, and used the object? Artifacts are a physical link with the past, a conduit through which we can enter, if only briefly and remotely, another time, another culture. They are thus an ideal way to investigate and experi- ence history. FURTHER INFORMATION Dancey, William S. Archaeological Field Methods: An Introduction. Minneapolis: Burgess, 1981. Morley, Neville. Writing Ancient History. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999. Thomas, David Hurst. Archaeology. 2nd ed. Fort Worth, TX: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1989. Voss, Barbara. “Image, Text, Object: Interpreting Documents and Artifacts as ‘Labors of Representation.’” Historical Archaeology 41(4) (2007): 147–171. Websites “Artifact & Analysis.” Smithsonian Education, http://www.smithsonianed- ucation.org/idealabs/ap/.
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