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Formulating a Theory

 
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Styler78
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 29, 2011 7:30 pm    Post subject: Formulating a Theory Reply with quote

Hi everyone. I need your help.

I would like to know how an Egyptologist goes about formulating a theory.

Is there a strict way that all Egyptologists go about this - or is it dependent on the person?

I would say that if formulating "new" theories you would have to:

* Consider all archaeological evidence on the subject matter
* Consider all previous theories and clearly show these to be inaccurate

..and that's where my thoughts stop. How does a "new theory" become the norm or at least acceptable? Are there clear parameters?

Thank you,

Regards,
Stuart
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neseret
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 29, 2011 8:05 pm    Post subject: Re: Formulating a Theory Reply with quote

Styler78 wrote:
I would like to know how an Egyptologist goes about formulating a theory.

Is there a strict way that all Egyptologists go about this - or is it dependent on the person?

I would say that if formulating "new" theories you would have to:

* Consider all archaeological evidence on the subject matter
* Consider all previous theories and clearly show these to be inaccurate


Generally, one has to show a total familiarity with all the archaeological evidence, to be sure. However, it's not a requirement - from my observation of many theories that are bandied about in this field - that one has to totally disprove previous theories. If one's theory is similar to another theory (which I'll call here Theory A), the new theorist will likely want to show how his new theory differs from Theory A (did it not go far enough as the new theory? Is there an intrinsic error in Theory A which which the new theory addresses? etc.)

In short, one should show familiarlity with all known theories surrounding his/her own area: while not "disproving" each one, an Egyptologist might summarise the pertinent theories already in place (usually the ones which are the most widely held at the moment) and then present his/her own theory as

a) an adjunct to present theories;
b) in opposition to present theories; and/or
c) a totally new theory where present theories have not examined.

Styler78 wrote:
..and that's where my thoughts stop. How does a "new theory" become the norm or at least acceptable? Are there clear parameters?


A "new theory" becomes the "norm" (if there is such a term in Egyptology) by being tested over and over against archaeological evidence known, as well as (and this is the real test) new archaeological evidence when it is found. That's basically the only sound way I know to make a theory acceptably established.

Of course, not everyone will agree with the norm; that's understandable in any field, but I think particualrly true in Egyptology since there is so much interpretation by Egyptologists (the ancient Egyptian were notorious about not explaining why they did things, after all! Smile ).

So, if I see a temple plan, I might think it was utilised a certain way; another Egyptologist, knowing the same things I know, might interpret differently. We may both be right, and we may both be wrong, but as long as we attempt to show WHY we came to our interpretations, with verifiable evidence from the archaeological record, our theories do deserve a proper airing before our peers.

To simply hold a belief about something is not a theory: it's your opinion. If you can show systematically why you think it's so and the archaeology backs you up, you are on your way to a theory. But it will have to be tested continuously, and I mean against a number of examples in the archaeological evidence.

You also will have colleagues who will be very critical of your reasoning, your interpretation, and your view of the archaeolgical examples you choose. You will need to address their concerns, because 9 times out of 10, they are valid concerns.

I hope this gives you an idea of the process.
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Styler78
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 12:31 pm    Post subject: Re: Formulating a Theory Reply with quote

neseret wrote:
Styler78 wrote:
I would like to know how an Egyptologist goes about formulating a theory.

Is there a strict way that all Egyptologists go about this - or is it dependent on the person?

I would say that if formulating "new" theories you would have to:

* Consider all archaeological evidence on the subject matter
* Consider all previous theories and clearly show these to be inaccurate


Generally, one has to show a total familiarity with all the archaeological evidence, to be sure. However, it's not a requirement - from my observation of many theories that are bandied about in this field - that one has to totally disprove previous theories. If one's theory is similar to another theory (which I'll call here Theory A), the new theorist will likely want to show how his new theory differs from Theory A (did it not go far enough as the new theory? Is there an intrinsic error in Theory A which which the new theory addresses? etc.)

In short, one should show familiarlity with all known theories surrounding his/her own area: while not "disproving" each one, an Egyptologist might summarise the pertinent theories already in place (usually the ones which are the most widely held at the moment) and then present his/her own theory as

a) an adjunct to present theories;
b) in opposition to present theories; and/or
c) a totally new theory where present theories have not examined.

Styler78 wrote:
..and that's where my thoughts stop. How does a "new theory" become the norm or at least acceptable? Are there clear parameters?


A "new theory" becomes the "norm" (if there is such a term in Egyptology) by being tested over and over against archaeological evidence known, as well as (and this is the real test) new archaeological evidence when it is found. That's basically the only sound way I know to make a theory acceptably established.

Of course, not everyone will agree with the norm; that's understandable in any field, but I think particualrly true in Egyptology since there is so much interpretation by Egyptologists (the ancient Egyptian were notorious about not explaining why they did things, after all! Smile ).

So, if I see a temple plan, I might think it was utilised a certain way; another Egyptologist, knowing the same things I know, might interpret differently. We may both be right, and we may both be wrong, but as long as we attempt to show WHY we came to our interpretations, with verifiable evidence from the archaeological record, our theories do deserve a proper airing before our peers.

To simply hold a belief about something is not a theory: it's your opinion. If you can show systematically why you think it's so and the archaeology backs you up, you are on your way to a theory. But it will have to be tested continuously, and I mean against a number of examples in the archaeological evidence.

You also will have colleagues who will be very critical of your reasoning, your interpretation, and your view of the archaeolgical examples you choose. You will need to address their concerns, because 9 times out of 10, they are valid concerns.

I hope this gives you an idea of the process.


Indeed it does Neseret. Your response is exactly what i am looking for. Far from wanting to formulate my own theories, i wish(ed) to know how certain theories i am aware of (Hatshepsut) were built.

I am particularly interested in the part where you mention colleagues. As a non- Egyptologist it is interesting to know that even those in your field may oppose new theories. Egyptology and the interpretations within do seem to change at quite a rate compared to other disciplines.

Are you aware of any current Ancient Egyptian theories which are based on non- Egyptological persons - or is that simply something for the "opinion" section?

Thank you for your help,

Regards,
Stuart
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karnsculpture
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 9:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would have thought that if you did all the study, gained a thorough understanding of the subject, gathered evidence to back up your arguments and then produced a valid piece of work to be published, you would have to become an Egyptologist in the process.

However, lots of people have published theories who are not Egyptologists, precisely because they have not followed the guidance posted by Neseret, however they are often regarded as being on the fringe of pseudo-science.

Paul
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Theban Moon
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's much more complex than this.

Joyce Filer for instance led a deep study of the KV55 skeleton but because her conclusions challenge those of other individuals she doesn't necssarilly get the credit she deserves. I'd also say that Stephen W Cross's work on the Hydrology of the Valley of the Kings was excellent but again he has lacked the connections to get as much notice as deserved.

I know that it is tempting to say that the best tested and most rigorous theories rise to the top. I would say that is merely an hypothesis that needs validation before it should be accepted. An alternative hypothesis would be that theories gain prominence because of the profile of the person proposing the theory. For instance, the famous designation of the "Hatshepsut" mummy based on a tooth is very well known, but would it have been so prominet if Zahi hadn't pushed it. Generally, there have been theories in Egyptology which have persisted during the lifetime or professional career of a particular Egyptologist and then gradually fade from view.

Personally I would say that the best ways to get a theory well known and generally accepted are:

1) Sign a contract to produce a TV documentary about it
2) Write a book about it
3) Write an academic paper about it
4) Write about it in magazines

... and of course, one needs at least a plausible theory to start with.

How successful those area will depend on the media skills of the person involved. Look how many people are adherents of the Bavual pyramid allignment theory, even though it has largely been shown to be wrong.

I know that's a somewhat cynical alternative but we shouldn't see the world through rose-tinted glasses and we ought to recognise that some theories make to the front even though they don't deserve to, because they are pushed by a strong communication campaign; and some worthy theories languish in obscurity because the author doesn't have the media savvy and presence to get truly noticed. Of course, some of the top theories are also the best ones and many of the hopeless type thankfully drown quickly, but that shouldn't lead us to believe that there is a 1:1 correspondence between quality/accuracy and acceptance/prominence because I don't think the evidence supports that conclusion.
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neseret
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 5:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Theban Moon wrote:
It's much more complex than this.

Joyce Filer for instance led a deep study of the KV55 skeleton but because her conclusions challenge those of other individuals she doesn't necssarilly get the credit she deserves.


I disagree: Filer (2000) basically concluded the standard theory: that is, the KV 55 individual was roughly mid-20's at death, was a gracile male (thin), but otherwise fit into the Amarna geneaology quite well. Her results were not ignored by any means, as she confimed the results of earlier examinations (Derry (1931), Harrison (1966), and her examination is considered the most recent and complete examination in recent memory, but supported the theory which was already in place.

What IS considered somewhat controversial are recent statements that the KV 55 remains are much older than 20-25 years of age (Hawass, Gad, et al (2010) hold an age of 60 based on spinal degeneration; Harris and Hussien (1988) held for an age of 35 based upon degeneration of the sinuses). Hawass, Gad et al (2010), the most recent theory which challenges the traditional age at death of the KV 55 remains, makes a vague allusion to a "degenerative condition" to the spine of the KV 55 remains; however, as many medical and archaeological experts have noted, this type of degeneration can show up in ancient individuals even in their youth, particularly where scoliosis is present (as was the case of the KV 55 remains).

Theban Moon wrote:
I know that it is tempting to say that the best tested and most rigorous theories rise to the top. I would say that is merely an hypothesis that needs validation before it should be accepted. An alternative hypothesis would be that theories gain prominence because of the profile of the person proposing the theory. For instance, the famous designation of the "Hatshepsut" mummy based on a tooth is very well known, but would it have been so prominet if Zahi hadn't pushed it. Generally, there have been theories in Egyptology which have persisted during the lifetime or professional career of a particular Egyptologist and then gradually fade from view.

Personally I would say that the best ways to get a theory well known and generally accepted are:

1) Sign a contract to produce a TV documentary about it
2) Write a book about it
3) Write an academic paper about it
4) Write about it in magazines

... and of course, one needs at least a plausible theory to start with.


I would say that if [1] is your best way to "present" a theory, then you would find various pseudo-science buffs being accepted everyday as experts in the field. Shocked

One needs to present a theory to one's own peers first and foremost - via journal article or full-blow publication - and get its validity tested this way, if the theory has any verifiable weight to it. Running off to TV/film and/or popular magazines usually makes most experts in the field highly suspicious of such theories: why present a theory this way when a simple article outlining your method and theory would be considered more valid? Think of using the popular media as a platform of presentign one's theory as similar to one trying a legal case "in the press" rather than in a court: it may get airplay for the public, but flamboyant explanations made there are usually not supported by the actual evidence, when push comes to shove.

I realise you're taking a cynical approach, but I would never suggest using the media (broadcast, film and popular press) as the main means of presenting a theory. Such a road comes attached with suspicion at the outset from other experts in the field, and even if the theory has validity, it will take it MUCH longer for even a reasonable and valid theory to be accepted as a strong and longlasting over time if it's presented in such a fashion.

Reference:

Derry, D. E. 1931. Notes on the Skeleton hitherto believed to be that of King Akhenaten. ASAE 31: 115-119.

Filer, J. 2000. The KV 55 body: the facts. Egyptian Archaeology 17/Autumn: 13-14.

Harrison, R. G. 1966. An Anatomical Examination of the Pharaonic Remains Purported to be Akhenaten. JEA 52: 95-119.

Hawass, Z., Y. Z. Gad, et al. 2010. Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family. Journal of the American medical Association 303/7: 638-647.

Hussien, F. and J. E. Harris. 1988. The skeletal remains from Tomb No. 55. In Abstracts, Fifth International Congress of Egyptology: 140. Cairo: International Congress of Egyptology.

My .
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Styler78
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 6:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you all for your input. Possibly an "easy target" for this thread in recent years would be Joann Fletcher and her Nefertiti documentary. Very shortly afterwards, Zahi Hawass was very quick to shoot her theories down due to not following protocol with the SCA.

I know discussing individuals on this thread may be unfair- but i wonder if Joann would have had much more credit for her theory had she followed protocol. Is that so? Was there more to it that simply not following protocol?

As previously stated- i am not necessarily looking to form theories, but to understand the different approaches. You have all given me more information than i had to start with and i appreciate that.

Regards,
Stuart
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