Cultural artifacts are of critical import to the study of humans and civilizations over the course of history. Artifacts are the concrete items cultures leave behind, such as Native American arrowheads, stone tools from early hominid groups, newspapers archived from the past, or the cell phones, TV sets, and refrigerators we will leave behind for future generations.
They are important because they comprise primary evidence for scholars to understand what happened in the past. To appreciate primary evidence, it is helpful to know what secondary evidence is. Secondary evidence is like secondhand information; these sources are the textbooks, encyclopedia articles, and/or Wikipedia pages that provide easy-to-digest explanations of past events. In theory, scholars and historians have scoured primary source artifacts to arrive at sound conclusions about the past, and they explain these conclusions to average citizens in a way that is relevant and clear.
However, scholars and historians are invariably influenced by, and carry the biases of, their times.
Consider many scholars writing about the Revolutionary Era in the US during the 1800s. These historians described European colonists as "civilizing" the Native Americans, because they were biased by the stereotypes of their era, which held that Native Americans were ignorant and childlike. However, many historians began to take a closer look at Native American cultural artifacts during the 1900s. They found that Native Americans used shells and precious stones as currency. They also found evidence of year-round habitation and agricultural practices. By returning to cultural artifacts—primary evidence—contemporary historians came to a very different understanding than historians of the 1800s: that Native Americans had advanced and complex civilizations of their own—they just looked very different from the European civilizations of the time.