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Alteration of artefact, from Italian artefatto, from Latin arte (by skill) (ablative of ars (art)) + factum (thing made) (from facio (to make, do)).



artifact (plural artifacts)

  1. An object made or shaped by human hand or labor.
    • 2010 May, Young Sik Kang, Heeseok Lee, “Understanding the role of an IT artifact in online service continuance: An extended perspective of user satisfaction.(Report)”, in Computers in Human Behavior, →DOI:
      Given increasing investment in an IT (information technology) artifact (i.e., online service website), it is becoming important to retain existing customers.
  2. An object made or shaped by some agent or intelligence, not necessarily of direct human origin.
  3. Something viewed as a product of human agency or conception rather than an inherent element.
    • 2004, Philip Weiss, American Taboo: A Murder In The Peace Corps:
      The very act of looking at a naked model was an artifact of male supremacy.
    • 2019, Li Huang, James Lambert, “Another Arrow for the Quiver: A New Methodology for Multilingual Researchers”, in Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, →DOI, page 6:
      Overall the signage at NIE has the appearance being a top-down artefact driven by institutional policy with English set as the default language.
  4. A finding or structure in an experiment or investigation that is not a true feature of the object under observation, but is a result of external action, the test arrangement, or an experimental error.
    The spot on his lung turned out to be an artifact of the X-ray process.
  5. (archaeology) An object, such as a tool, ornament, or weapon of archaeological or historical interest, especially such an object found at an archaeological excavation.
    The dig produced many Roman artifacts.
    • 2017, Tim Carvell [et al.], “North Korea”, in Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, season 4, episode 21, John Oliver (actor), Warner Bros. Television, via HBO:
      Holy shit! It is fascinating when a country’s culture seeps even into their math lessons, although it’s not really surprising. As a British child, our math questions were “if Johnny has two artifacts and Dinesh has two artifacts, then how many artifacts is Johnny about to have?” The answer, of course, “all the artifacts, Dinesh’s family can come visit them in a British museum whenever they’re in town.”
  6. (biology) An appearance or structure in protoplasm due to death, the method of preparation of specimens, or the use of reagents, and not present during life.
  7. (computing) A perceptible distortion that appears in an audio or video file or a digital image as a result of applying a lossy compression or other inexact processing algorithm.
    This JPEG image has been so highly compressed that it has unsightly artifacts, making it unsuitable for the cover of our magazine.
    • 2023 February 9, Ted Chiang, “ChatGPT Is a Blurry JPEG of the Web”, in The New Yorker[1]:
      These hallucinations are compression artifacts, but—like the incorrect labels generated by the Xerox photocopier—they are plausible enough that identifying them requires comparing them against the originals, which in this case means either the Web or our own knowledge of the world.
  8. (software engineering) Ellipsis of build artifact.
  9. (museology) Any object in the collection of a museum. May be used sensu stricto only for human-made objects, or may include ones that are not human-made.
    Coordinate terms: object, specimen

Usage notes[edit]

The spelling artifact is preferred by most American dictionaries, while artefact is the preferred spelling in the Commonwealth. For example, Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary lists artifact as a variant.

Alternative forms[edit]

  • artefact (Australian and British spelling)

Derived terms[edit]


Further reading[edit]