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Ancient Artifact

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A form of phlebotinum, an Ancient Artifact is some object that bestows special abilities on its possessor. Unlike some types of phlebotinum, Ancient Artifacts are not naturally occurring: they are constructed. (The word "artifact" literally means "something made by humans," and contains the same root as "artificial.")

While any tool could be said to "bestow abilities on its user," an artifact is no mere tool. An artifact is both rare and extraordinary, and the abilities it grants are beyond — often far beyond — the scope of the technology available in the story. Artifacts are also invariably old — the older, the better. Newly invented super-science devices, no matter how awesome, would not usually be called artifacts.

Some artifacts are not tools, and don't need to be actively used — they influence the world by their very existence. This tends to be true more of cursed artifacts, which bring bad luck or worse to their owners.

Most of the time, artifacts are also unique. That is, while a story may have many artifacts, each one will be the only one of its kind: there is only one Excalibur, one Gáe Bulg, and one Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi.

Artifacts are common in the fantasy genre, where their power is usually derived from supernatural sources. The tools and weapons of the gods are textbook examples of artifacts, as are certain religious relics. Supremely powerful instruments of mortal magic — usually described as extremely dangerous or difficult to create, or made by long-forgotten means, in order to explain their scarcity — are another type of artifact.

Artifacts aren't limited to the fantasy genre though: they can often be found in any adventure story, including those with contemporary settings. In non-fantasy works, artifacts are frequently the forgotten technology of a lost civilization, or of Ancient Astronauts. Imported Alien Phlebotinum can serve a similar narrative purpose.

Because of their special powers, artifacts are often widely sought-after, making them a classic form of MacGuffin. The Adventurer Archaeologist in particular spends about 99.2% of his time (onscreen) looking for them. The Ancient Order of Protectors will sometimes be protecting them.

Unrelated to The Artifact.

Common categories, not mutually exclusive:



    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: The Behelits are egg-shaped stones covered in a scattering of facial features that were created in a deep level of the Astral Plane, linking this region to the physical world and allowing the owner to summon the God Hand, a group of demonic sovereigns, in exchange for a blood sacrifice. The Scarlet Behelit is the most powerful of these, and under very specific circumstances allows the owner to become one of the God Hand.
  • Death Note: The eponymous notebook is a book used by shinigami to kill mortals and claim their life force for their own. It is possible for humans to use these notebooks to kill humans (and Ryuk helpfully includes a brief list of rules for their use), but doing so to trivially kill people seems to inevitably erode one's sanity and morality, and any mortal who uses a Death Note to kill someone will eventually be killed in turn by the notebook's original owner by writing that mortal's name. It is also mentioned in passing that a mortal who uses a Death Note will not have their soul go to Heaven or Hell when they die, but it's also mentioned that this is the case for everyone, so...
  • The bulk of Inuyasha centers around the Shikon no Tama (Jewel of Four Souls), a jewel created in ancient Japan that held the souls of four dragon yokai and the priestess Midoriko, locked in an eternal battle. It can grant whomever holds it great powers, and even the shards of the shattered gem can boost the powers of even minor yokai.
  • Symphogear: All relics are based on ancient super technology from various points in human history—therefore becoming part of several culture's mythologies—allowing a team of magical girls to fight otherwise intangible enemies called the Noise.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: The seven Millennium items were created in Ancient Egypt to protect the kingdom from its enemies and to grant its users access to magic for use in the Shadow Games.

    Comic Books 
  • Aquaman:
    • The Staff of Storms is a relic of ancient Atlantis that allows the use of a portal system called the Maelstrom.
    • The Trident of Orm, forged before the sinking of Atlantis, gives the wielder control over storms and ability to control lightning and other electrical forces.
  • Metamorpho: The Orb of Ra is an artifact made from a radioactive meteorite that turned Adventurer Archaeologist Rex Mason into Metamorpho the Element Man. He's not too happy with the Aesthetic side effects.
  • The Marvel Universe has the Darkhold, a Tome of Eldritch Lore written by the elder god Chthon and one of the first books of magic ever. It contains a variety of powerful spells, but using one automatically sells one's soul to Chthon and eventually corrupts the user.
    • Its good counterpart, the Book of Vishanti, contains every counterspell and defensive magic ever (past and future), including a spell to free someone from the Darkhold's influence.
    • The Black Vortex is an eons-old artifact created by the Celestial Godhead to turn anyone into a cosmic-level being on par with the Silver Surfer or the Dark Phoenix, or revert them to their non-cosmic state.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Amazons: The plot focuses on the quest for the Sword of Azundati, in order to slay an evil king that has made a Deal with the Devil.
  • The Demon Child: The protagonists used a sword made by a prehistoric race of giants to fight the titular baby demon.
  • Demon Knight: The film centers around an artifact called the Key which, if filled with blood (originally Jesus' own blood) can harm or kill demons, but if emptied of blood can be used to destroy the world.
  • Doctor Strange (2016): Doctor Strange's Cloak of Levitation is an ancient relic that offers its wearer the ability to fly and is also independently intelligent enough to be considered more of a partner than a garment or magical tool.
  • Evil Dead: The Necronomicon is noted to be the oldest written document known to man.
  • Indiana Jones: Indiana Jones spends most of his time not teaching but in pursuit of these artifacts, mainly to keep them out of the possession of the bad guys. Across four movies, he has sought out:
    • The Ark of the Covenant (Old Testament), which Hitler believes will make his armies invincible.
    • Sankara stones, which according to Word of God were given to Sankara by Shiva and used to convert many to Shiva worship and can bring protection to the faithful or retribution to those who betray her.
    • The Holy Grail (New Testament), which heals mortal injuries and can grant some form of immortality.
    • An alien artifact in the form of a quartz skull containing eons of knowledge about the universe.
  • The Mask: The titular item is an ancient Norse artifact that, when put on, grants the wearer cartoon-like abilities. In the film and animated continuity, Stanley Ipkiss becomes a living Tex Avery cartoon, with all the physics-bending craziness that goes with it, while in the comics continuity, it also made his alter ego psychopathically violent.

    Game Books 
  • The Lone Wolf series of game books offers several artifacts that the title character can collect over the course of his adventures. Among these:
    • The Sommerswerd, a holy golden broadsword forged by godlike beings called the Nuoma which has tremendous effects against evil creatures, particularly the followers of Naar.

  • The titular Constance Verity from the Constance Verity Trilogy keeps a personal hoard of unusual objects from her adventures in her apartment, including a book-shelf full of grimoires, the last gold coin of the Last Leprechaun King, a cursed idol that induces vampirism, a petrified snake that grants wishes, an alien ray gun, a part for a time-machine given to her by her future self for reasons she'd need later, etc. After she has her spell lifted in The Last Adventure of Constance Verity, the first thing she does when she gets home is pack all of them up and sends them to various allies and acquaintances that would get more use out of them than her.
  • Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows are a group of extremely powerful artifacts even by Wizardly standards, supposedly created by Death itself; owning all three was supposed to make the wielder the Master of Death. Each one has mythic powers of its own. The Elder Wand is the most powerful wand and makes its holder unbeatable in magic duels; the Resurrection Stone can summon the soul of a deceased person; and the Cloak of Invisibility renders the user invisible and lasts forever.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrowverse:
    • The Khushu idol is a powerful artifact that gives the user enhanced physical and psychic abilities, but only by killing and drawing strength from others.
    • The Totems of Zambesi is a group of six artifacts created by the gods to help the six tribes of the village of the same name defeat a demon called Mallus; individually, they also offer the user control over different elements and related abilities.
  • The Sandman (2022):
    • Morpheus's vestments of office bore most of his power, and as a result were not meant to be used by humans. His pouch of sand is used to put people to sleep and manifest dreams into existence, but Constantine's ex-girlfriend became addicted to using it and ultimately died from sleeping herself to death. The ruby contained a large portion of Morpheus's power and fell into the hands of John Dee, who tried to use it to create a more honest world, but wound up sowing chaos and bloodshed. It is not mentioned what the Helm might have done if a mortal had used it, but it was apparently valuable enough to trade to a demon for a Protective Charm.
    • Regarding said protective charm, it was said to protect the wearer from "anything", which in the course of the show translated to granting Ethel Cripps extended life and youth, and rendering anyone who tried to attack Dee into Chunky Salsa.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The franchise has boasted a number of both major and minor artifacts over the course of its history, with a number of traits in common. First, they are rare and uniquely powerful. Second, they cannot be created or destroyed by normal means. Third, most (major) artifacts are unique.
    • Two classic artifacts are the Hand and Eye of Vecna, which are literally the mummified hand and eye of the lich god Vecna. It offers the user access to heightened magical senses and spells, but tends to drive them crazy or evil and leaves them open to possession by Vecna himself. Considering that claiming one of these involves removing the equivalent organ and attaching it to oneself, sanity probably isn't a high priority already.
  • Hunter: The Reckoning: The mythical "Lamp of Constantine" is an ancient relic dating back to the 300s A.D., whose light is rumored to cure the Curse of Caine (vampirism).

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed: The Pieces of Eden at the heart of the Assassin/Templar conflict are, collectively, ancient Precursor technology that can control people. The Templars want to control them to get rid of that minor problem of free will.
  • Diablo III: The Black Soulstone is an artifact of incredible power, intended to trap many souls, angel and demon alike, and was capable of sealing away all seven of the Great Evils.
  • Doom³: The Soul Cube is a sentient, ancient Martian artifact created after the people of Mars encountered the forces of Hell for the first time. It is powered by the souls of its creators and activated once it absorbs the lifeforce of five beings, whether human or demon, transforming into a whirling ball of bladed death.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The Eye of Magnus (which double-times as an Artifact of Doom) is a relic associated with the architect of the mortal plane and nobody knows for sure what it does. It contains enough raw power to potentially destroy the world and indirectly doomed the ancient Falmer civilization.
  • The Triforce in The Legend of Zelda is a sacred artifact left behind by the three Golden Goddesses that can grant wishes to anyone who touches it—as long as they have an equal balance of Power, Wisdom, and Courage. It is also implied to be connected to the stability of Hyrule, and collecting and reassembling its fragments is a common overarching quest in the various games.
  • Tomb Raider: Lara Croft's enthusiasm for dungeon delving often brings her in contact with mystical artifacts, many of them commonly sought relics, usually leading to her having to keep them away from bad guys.

    Western Animation 
  • ThunderCats (1985): The Sword of Omens is the legendary sword of the ThunderCats, wielded by their Lord after proving himself worthy. In addition to changing size and being nigh-invulnerable, it offers the wielder New Powers as the Plot Demands thanks to the Eye of Thundera, which provides power not only to the sword but also to the ThunderCats in general. Depending on the continuity, it cannot be used or even touched by those with evil intent.
  • Winx Club:
    • The Ring of Solaria is a royal heirloom so old that nobody remembers when it was forged. To make it, ancient Solarians carved a stone from the Spring of Light, a magical fountain born from the Dragon's Flame. It's been passed down for generations and it's the birthright of Solaria's princess of the sun and the moon. In the first season, Stella uses it as her Power Crutch due to its immense sun magic power. It makes her the most powerful Winx for a while.
    • Implied with the Trix's Vacuums (or Whisperian Crystals) as their primary function is to identify and absorb magic signatures to help in the search for the Dragon's Flame. Since the Trix share the same goal as their ancestresses the Ancient Witches (who have existed since near the beginning of the universe), it's very likely they inherited the Vacuums from them.
    • The Agador Box is unique because it can contain any type of magic or spell in it in such a way that it allows the user to endlessly cast them. The user can either learn the magic and store the knowledge or it can directly absorb it from magical sources. Valtor steals it from an exhibition of ancient artifacts in Magix's Museum of Magic.
    • Exploited. To throw people's suspicion of him actually wanting the Agador Box, Valtor publicly announces that he will be stealing the Eye of the Ancestresses. That artifact belonged to the Ancestral Witches but has no known purpose and seems to be more powerful and valuable than the Agador Box.
    • The Winx's only hope to defeat Valtor is the Water Stars, which contain the Dragon's Flame opposite magic and the only substance in the universe able to actually extinguish it. At some point during the early years of the Magix Dimension, the Dragon's Flame and some sort of ancient water magic constantly clashed against each other, unleashing all sorts of destruction in the universe. A group of magical beings then decides to enclose the water magic in a series of containers, the Water Stars, and send them to a timeless dimension: the Golden Realm. The Winx earn them by passing a test of character from the Council of the Elders. Unfortunately for Bloom, the only thing able to activate the Water Stars is the Dragon's Flame, which means she will be affected by their power too.
    • Valtor somehow gets his grubby hands in the Water Stars Catcher, an item able to call back and contain the Water Stars, which is a bit redundant. It's never stated when that thing was created but it's probably not a recent creation, what with the Stars being unaccessible to everyone but the purest of heart.
    • Winx Club 3D: Magical Adventure: The Ancestral Witches give the Ancient Hourglass to the traitorous King Erendor so he can't protect his planet from the destructive magic waves the witches plan on unleashing on the neighbor planet Domino. The Hourglass contains a sprout of positive magic from the Tree of Life. Subverted because it's implicit that the Ancestresses crafted it with this express purpose in mind, so it's not actually ancient.
    • In season four, there are two opposite artifacts: the White Circle, created by Earth's fairies as a key to their secluded realm of Tir Nan Og, and the Black Circle, created by the hunter wizards during the Great Fairy Hunt. The former enhances a fairy's magical capabilities and serves as a communication device. Meanwhile, the latter cuts off a fairy's wings to absorb her powers.
    • In the Hallowinx arc of the comics, the High Priestess Lamya carries the Scepter of Apophis as a way to channel the magic of Ancient Egypt's god of chaos. It's unknown how Lamya originally obtained it (or if she crafted it) but it's certainly thousands of years old by the time Earth's restored magic resurrects her.
    • In the fifth season, the girls have to obtain the Sirenix transformation to be able to effectively use their magic underwater. The detailed steps to do so are written in the Sirenix Book, which also summons little Sirenix guardians to help any potential magical being in their quest. It's never said who created the book but since it can be found in Alfea's Archive, it was probably the first fairy who was successful at earning the transformation.
    • The Ancestral Wands are the Transformation Trinkets of the Mythix transformation and one of the few ways to access the Legendarium World. They were retrieved by a septet of ancestral Earth fairies who accessed the Legendarium World. The Wands connect the imaginary with the real world and can only be wielded by worthy fairies.