Artifacts and Archaeology

Archaeology and Artifacts

Archeology is often defined as the study of ancient civilizations through their material culture. What is material culture? Material culture simply put is the stuff that people make and leave behind, archaeologists like to call these things artifacts. This is as opposed to ecofacts, things that are left behind from the natural environment. Everything from Paleolithic debris from making flaked stone tools, to a modern laptop computer can be considered to be an artifact. It may be a long time before archaeologists are digging up laptops, but we certainly dig up lots of other things. Here at the Kuaua village we still find lots of artifacts. An artifact can be as simple as a single sherd of pottery, Figure 1.

Kuaua Artifacts

Figure 1. Pottery sherd.

Or it may be a complete bowl, Figure 2.


Figure 2. Rio Grande glaze ware.

Artifacts can tell us all kinds of things about the people who lived here centuries ago. What kinds of things they made. How many objects were made and how many people might have used them. Did the people have specific skills? Did they have specific artistic taste? Was this taste linked to an ideology or another cultural trait? Artifacts help archaeologists answer these questions and more.

Among the most interesting artifacts we find are tools. Figure 3, shows you some tools made of bone. Most people are aware of the making of flaked stone tools by pre-historic peoples. Many people have gone hunting for ‘arrow heads’. These artifacts are usually projectile points, not necessarily arrow heads, or they may be knife blades. They can also be scrapers for preparing hides. Bone tools were for more delicate work.

11608/11, 11609/11 & 11621/11

Figure 3. Bone tools from Kuaua.

Bone was used to make awls, drills, and needles for sewing and weaving, as well as musical instruments. Bone is very versatile and much stronger than you think. The other kind of tool you might see is ground stone. Figure 4, shows an axe made of fibrolite. Fibrolite is a very beautiful and strong stone that comes from one source in northern New Mexico. So the people of Kuaua had to trade for it.


Figure 4. Fibrolite axe.

Ground stone tools included manos and metates, mortars and pestles, axes, adzes, and hammers. What the artifacts are made of can tell us how far away a civilization might have traveled for raw materials. It may imply that there was a large trade network. When we see artifacts we can admire the skill and artistry of the original people who made the object, but we can also learn a great deal about them and the lives they led. By considering the raw materials, or the similarity of techniques with techniques from neighboring cultures, we can learn about relationships the people may have had.

If you’ve visited the Coronado Historic site recently, you have certainly noticed that there are still pottery sherds and lithic debitage right on the surface of the site. Please enjoy seeing these artifacts, but don’t pick them up. Sometimes where they are within the Pueblo tells us as much as what they are. Anytime you’re traveling and you see artifacts on a hike if you do pick them up, put them back as close to where you found them as possible, otherwise they lose their value to archaeologists. An object that could have told us something unique about an ancient culture might become just a broken piece of pottery. Also leave the objects there for the next hiker to enjoy. You’ll appreciate it the next time you go for a hike over an archaeological site.

The Archaeological Relic!

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