Are better rugs peferentially preserved?

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Posted by Steve Price on June 21, 1999 at 06:44:00:

In Reply to: Re: Dating Turkomen weavings posted by Yon Bard on June 20, 1999 at 20:23:20:

Dear Yon,

You note that the position that better rugs are preserved preferentially is not rigorously proven. That's true. In fact, it cannot be rigorously proven. Nor can most of the other things we routinely take to be true (not just in Rugdom, by the way).

I've made that assertion fairly often and publicly, so I thought my rationale might be of some interest. Here it is.

1. I assume that some broad criteria for what is "good" are the same now as they were in the past. In general, the skill needed to create a piece, the amount of time it took to do so, and the expense of the materials involved are and have been significant elements in the judgment of whether something is good or bad. These are not the only factors, obviously, but they are significant.
2. I further assume that people are more likely to discard something bad than something good, and are more likely to take steps to preserve something good than something bad. There will be individual exceptions, of course, but if we deal with large numbers of items I think this can be taken as axiomatic.
3. It follows from this that over time the better pieces will have been preserved to a greater extent, and the worse pieces will have been discarded to a greater extent. That is, over time the average quality of the surviving pieces of a cohort of items will become higher than that of the original cohort, and the longer the time, the greater the average quality of the surviving pieces will become.
4. The issue of whether there are excellent new pieces is related, but not identical. Of course there are excellent new items, but selection has not yet weeded out very many of the worst. Furthermore, to the extent that new production is influenced by the surviving examples of old production, the newer cohorts will gradually improve so the average quality of new weavings may be expected to be better than the average quality of old pieces at the time the old ones were made TO THE EXTENT THAT THE NEW PRODUCTION IS INFLUENCED BY THE SURVIVING EXAMPLES OF OLD PRODUCTION. I do not know how great that influence is, although I do not think it is major.

I hope this is not so longwinded as to be boring.

Steve Price

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