An Artifact is a special unit in Age of Empires. It that can be acquired when it appears within the sight of a unit. Once an Artifact is captured, the color coating changes corresponding to the color of the player that owns the unit. Once all Artifacts are captured by a team or player, a countdown begins, starting with 2,000 years (five minutes in real time). If none of the Artifacts are captured by any opposing team or player within the time frame, the team or player controlling all Artifacts on the map wins the game. To capture an already captured Artifact, a unit must stand directly next to it, it is not sufficient to just see it. That is different from capturing an unclaimed Artifact and can make a big difference since it is much easier to keep a unit from actually approaching an Artifact than from just getting into its Line of Sight.
A standard game may or may not contain Artifacts. If it does, it will always have five Artifacts scattered around the map. In the Scenario Editor, maps with more or less Artifacts may be created.