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To study material culture is to study the things that we own and use. Social scientists, historians, and other scholars who study material culture argue that these things can tell us a great deal about the society that consumes or owns them. Material culture is especially fundamental to archaeology. For example, an archaeologist investigating Southeastern American Indians might be interested to see an abundance of trade goods from Europe buried with elites. This suggests that after contact with Europeans, many Native American societies valued these items, and probably conferred status on those who could obtain and publicly display them. On the other hand, a social scientist today might be interested in the effects of mass production on consumer habits, looking for the importance that people assign to the things they consume. Essentially, then, material culture can shed light on aspects of what might be called "non-material culture," such as religious beliefs, social structures, and power relationships.
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