TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  Clear, concise definitions of the hypotheses, please
Author  :  Steve Price mailto:%20sprice@hsc.vcu.edu
Date  :  11-26-2000 on 07:10 a.m.
Dear people,

Among the problems leading to confusion in the discussion of this interesting and potentially very important topic is the lack of precision in the statements of the hypotheses, and their periodic metamorphosis into related, but not identical hypotheses.

There's nothing wrong with modifying hypotheses, that's how progress happens. But it is confusing when it happens "on the fly" and without acknowledging that it happened. I'm also very much disturbed by not having Shiv Sikri participating, since he could at least say what it is that he meant when he spoke in Philadelphia and explain any misunderstandings that may have taken place between him and his audience.

I think I have a pretty good handle on Yon's proposal, some early confusion having been cleared up by his explaining that he was not adopting Sikri's Hypothesis in its entirety and by explaining exactly how he was using the word "tradition".

I'm still not completely clear on the hypothesis that Michael Wendorf is defending, and would very much appreciate his providing a clear, concise statement of its elements. Specifically, I would like him to clarify the following issues:
1. Does the internal elem always occur between the first and second register of major motifs, or can it be elsewhere? If it cannot be elsewhere, how do the Pazyryk carpet, Myrna Bloom's bagface and the Morehouse yastik fit into the hypothesis? If it can be elsewhere, what are the limits to its location?
2. Does the internal elem represent some more or less unified custom going back to the Pazyryk, or is it an assortment of practices used for different reasons in different weaving groups?
3. Is there any evidence except the anecdotal? By anecdotal, I mean looking through rugs and photos of rugs and presenting examples that fit within the boundaries of the internal elem as defined by the hypothesis. Examples of other kinds of evidence might include looking through some reasonable database of rugs and counting (on the basis of some objective criteria) how many show the feature defined as the internal elem, how many don't, and how many show it but in the wrong place. Other evidence might be reports of contacts with weavers who provided information about the phenomenon (or phenomena) as seen by them or others in their cultures.

I think such information would make the discussion much more productive than it is now.


Steve Price

Subject  :  Re:Clear, concise definitions of the hypotheses, please
Author  :  Michael Wendorf mailto:%20wendorfm@home.com
Date  :  11-26-2000 on 02:41 p.m.
Dear Steve:

I will attempt to respond to your questions. However, please note that my responses are based on my understanding of the Sikri hypothesis. My understanding of the Sikri hypothesis is based on a draft of his paper that I have read and commented on as well as several conversations with Shiv Sikri. Like Yon and others, I had myself observed some unusual tendencies in some of the rugs in my collection prior to ever reading his draft or learning of his hypothesis; I find the Sikri hypothesis intriguing and worth exploring. Whether I am defending it or not is best left for others to decide. Likewise I cannot say whether I have modified the Sikri hypothesis, I can say that I am attempting to represent it as clearly and completely as I am able.

This rug is among the most interesting and beautiful Anatolian rugs in the great Berlin collection that was exhibited at the 7th ICOC in 1993. It dates to the late 15th century and was acquired by the late Wilhelm von Bode in 1888. The rug bears a design often referred to as a small pattern Holbein. Kurt Erdman, the great carpet scholar of an earlier generation, thought this carpet was a simplistic varient of the small Holbein pattern woven by a peasant weaver uncapable of understanding the sophistication of the original. That may be so, but it is now considered to rank among the greatest carpets in the world with a border recorded in 15th century Franco-Flemish paintings. Why is it that we now are better able to understand and appreciate this rug?

I am uncertain, but I submit to you and all Turkotek readers that it contains a clear marker of an internal elem of precisely the type identified by Sikri.

In another thread begun by Marla Mallet, she responds to the following two images:


by writing (I paraphrase) that it would be silly to dispute the weaver's/artist's intent in these two weavings.

I conclude the intent in all three weavings may be to insert a marker that demarcates the perimeter of an internal elem consistent with the Sikri hypothesis.

I also agree that three or even a hundred images by themselves may not amount to much of anything. Nonetheless, I doubt there is much frivolity expressed in any of these examples. If not an internal elem, then what? Coincidence?

I will now attempt to directly address each of your questions.

1) Does the internal elem always occur between the first and second register of the major motifs.

Answer: No. I have written this before and I will write it again:

What Sikri said is that the perimeter of the rectangular area that he refers to as an internal elem is usually marked or demarcated on a carpet with a repeat design at the second level or by a line extending across the second row (usually) of major/minor motifs.

Two important notes for you to remember here. First, he is specifically referring to rugs with "repeat" designs. Second, he uses the word "usually" because there are examples where the second level may be shifted slightly upwards, particularly in large carpets.

What is common to all manifestations of the internal elem - both in rugs with a repeat pattern and with non-repeat patterns -is that the internal elem is in the lower part of the rug. The limitation is that this orientation must exist.

The internal elem itself can be expressed in many ways. As seen above, one way is to express it with color. It is also often expressed through the use of contrariness, inversion, disjunction.

The rug above is a Turkish village rug with central medallion and cintamani field, east Anatolia, late 16th or early 17th century. Note the demarcation of the perimeter using a variant minor floral motif and the horizontal elements just below and inside them.

Sometimes the internal elem is expressed, as shown by Yon and I in other threads, only by inflection, changes in scale, distortion or discrete markers of a different colored knot or two. Again, the key is the placement of the marker.

2) Does the internal elem represent a unified custom or an assortment of practices?

Answer: Yes, my understanding of the hypothesis is that the internal elem does represent a unified custom or orientation.

I wish to expand on this. To place this answer in context you need to understand that Sikri assumes or believes that carpets with an internal elem contain a three part orientation. By orientation I understand him to mean a beginning, middle and an end.

An example of this orientation is perhaps this gabbeh type rug where color divides the rug. However, I do not want to go too deeply into this area beyond giving you a direct answer because I am not partcularly familiar with Sikri's thinking on this beyond the rectangular area we have been calling the internal elem and to add that the driving concept may be the remnant of a kind of woven language.

3) Is there any evidence for any of this beyond the anecdotal and some nice pictures?

I think this depends on what you call evidence. From my perspective, yes. However, you will have to weigh its relevance for yourself as a member of the proverbial jury.

Traditional folk beliefs in much of Central Asia and elsewhere involve a concept of the universe as divided into three worlds. Deities and spirits dwelt in the upper sky world, the people resided in the middle world and the lower world was the world after death (sound familiar?). Note that these Shamen drums divide their surfaces into different realms, including something that might approximate an internal elem.

There is also a tradition of garden or landscape type carpets that is well known.

Note how in these carpets the concept of the internal elem is clearly marked. But so are two other worlds.

I am unaware of evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, to support or disprove the Sikri hypothesis from weavers beyond the type that Marla has already offered.

I hope that I have responded directly to your questions and provided a basis to think about and consider the Sikri hypothesis in a meaningful way.

Best, Michael

Subject  :  Re:Clear, concise definitions of the hypotheses, please
Author  :  Marla Mallett mailto:%20marlam@mindspring.com
Date  :  11-26-2000 on 03:06 p.m.
Dear Michael,

Would you please clarify what you are seeing the the Berlin rug? I believe you have it upside down.


Subject  :  Re:Clear, concise definitions of the hypotheses, please
Author  :  Michael Wendorf mailto:%20wendorfm@home.com
Date  :  11-26-2000 on 04:10 p.m.

Subject  :  Re:Clear, concise definitions of the hypotheses, please
Author  :  Steve Price mailto:%20sprice@hsc.vcu.edu
Date  :  11-26-2000 on 04:40 p.m.
Dear Michael,

Thank you for your answers. Although you keep referring to the hypothesis you are defending as the Sikri Hypothesis, I'm not at all sure that it matches the one he presented in Philadelphia, and referring to your position that way is confusing. Therefore, I am assuming that what you just wrote is your position, as opposed to what you believe to be Sikri's on the basis of e-mail correspondence and reading a draft of what he ultimately presented. This it at least allows us to get past simply debating what it is that he said and get to the important matter of the truths in the weavings.

In another thread, you wrote (and Yon echoed):
It is funny, though, how so many weavers become bored or intuitively insert subtle variations to relieve their monotony precisely across the second row of the rug's major/minor motifs. In the message in this thread you say that it doesn't have to be precisely anywhere in particular, just as long as it's in the lower part of the rug. I understand that these are not exactly mutually exclusive statements; something can always be in the lower part of a rug and most of the time be in the more precise spot you mentioned. But such an assertion really demands supporting data, ideally, of the kind I suggested in the posting that opened this thread. I take it that such data hasn't been gathered by anyone. Until that simple step is taken, I do not accept the assertion as being true, and I don't think any serious student would, either.

In your previous postings you and Yon have both maintained that the significance of the internal elem is unknown and Yon has emphasized repeatedly that the thing that they have in common is that they represent traditonal ways of doing things (i. e., they are design elements that the weaver didn't suddenly make up). Showing photos of two shaman drums arranged with upper and lower parts divided by a line is not very compelling evidence that the "internal elem" on rugs is related to a specific, historically continuous cultural belief. The number of objects that naturally divide this way is endless: trees (trunks and foliage); landscapes (earth and sky); faces (chins and everything above the mouth); horses (the body and the space enclosed by the legs below it); the tent (the vertical trellis and the dome over it). I could go on, but you get the point.

So far, all I see is anecdotal evidence; certgain people believe certain things to be true, based on their personal experiences. I fully understand their convictions; my experience convinces me that some things are true, too. But that is the very essence and basis of superstitions.

To make a long story short, here is Price's Credo: All rugs have irregularities here and there. Some of those are accidents or adjustments. Some are there by plan.

Many of each kind are in the lower half of a rug, although many aren't (the mihrab in prayer rugs, for instance). The relative proportions of irregularities in different parts of rugs is unknown, although any hypothesis about the distribution of irregularities would be easy to test.

That's about all that can be said if we deal in generalities. Some specific categories of intentional irregularities are probably explainable, and deserve cataloguing and exploration to that end.


Steve Price

Subject  :  Re:Clear, concise definitions of the hypotheses, please
Author  :  Marla Mallett mailto:%20marlam@mindspring.com
Date  :  11-26-2000 on 04:51 p.m.
Dear Michael,

This rug was also incorrectly oriented on the HALI 68 cover. In the large 1996 Ertug volume by Olcer, Enderlain, Batari and Mills, TURKISH CARPETS FROM THE 13TH TO THE 18TH CENTURIES, it is shown correctly (in Plate 52), as it is in Gantzhorn (p. 249), Erdman's ORIENTAL CARPETS (Plate 31), and Erdman's SEVEN HUNDRED YEARS OF ORIENTAL CARPETS (Plate 51).

Of course anyone who questions the proper orientation need only look at the design configuration where vertical and horizontal borders meet. A crosswise border extends completely across one end, as it typically does on the lower ends of village rugs, but the side borders project well into the other end border--a feature that rarely occurs at the lower end of such a rug! This clear divergence is a tell-tale giveaway.

Since the "internal elem" theory places an emphasis on features appearing in the lower third of a rug, it would seem important to know which was the starting point. Or doesn't that matter? Does your theory include isolated features that occur in both upper and lower thirds?


Subject  :  Re:Clear, concise definitions of the hypotheses, please
Author  :  Henry Sadovsky mailto:%20hfsadovsky@qwest.net
Date  :  11-26-2000 on 07:01 p.m.
Dear Steve,

You wrote, "... here is Price's Credo: All rugs have irregularities here and there. Some of those are accidents or adjustments. Some are there by plan."

Well, one certainly can't argue with that. That is because it falls just short of being tautological, and therefor, trivial. In fact, Price's Credo would appear to be identical with what I have called Bard's "Seemingly Trivial Expansion of Sikri's Hypothesis" (STESH for short).

Shiv Sikri did not start this Salon. Whether or not he wishes to participate is his business. I, too, attended his ICOC presentation. The majority of individuals I spoke with at that time were in agreement with my view that his was one of the more intriguing and memorable talks. The fact that it remains the subject of debate only reinforces this view. Steve, you you state that at the time of its presentation it was derided. That certainly wasn't my impression. Even so, since when is that a criterion with which to judge the validity of an idea?

I suggest that nothing further of interest can be said about the topic of this Salon without some data. In a prior post I outlined one avenue of data collection. I will repeat it here.

To determine whether seemingly minor, random appearing, lower field anomalies are of import, one could examine the distribution of such anomalies in defined sections (e.g. from bottom to top, and left outer minor border to right...) in a convenient grouping of rugs. Naturally, the group of rugs examined would need to be different than the set used to establish the defining criteria for an "anomaly". Secondly, Ms. Mallett has pointed out that it is expected that a disproportionate number of errors/adjustments would be expected in the lower portion of rugs (lower here defined as the portion woven first). Therefore, precise definition of “anomaly”, and statistical analysis, would be required if one were to hope to differentiate between non-meaningful errors/whimsy and something with deeper implication.

Whether it is worth subjecting STESH to such an analysis can best be decided by its proponents, and their assessment as to its potential importance.

Subject  :  Re:Clear, concise definitions of the hypotheses, please
Author  :  Steve Price mailto:%20sprice@hsc.vcu.edu
Date  :  11-26-2000 on 07:28 p.m.
Dear Henry,

"Price's Credo" was a semi-facetious statement, and is stated only to emphasize that it is all we really know. It is not at all profound, and I know that.

Whether Sikri chooses to participate is his business, of course. On the other hand, the hypothesis and terminology, no matter how it gets massaged, originated with his talk and since there are many postings attributing all sorts of things to the content of that talk, it would be neat to have him clarify what he said and/or meant by what he said. That wouldn't bear on the issue of what is true or what is untrue, but could at least get us unstuck from debating what he said or meant.

The part of the room in which I sat was full of skeptics after his talk. Interested skeptics, even intrigued skeptics, but skeptics. I believe it was Yon who mentioned that he attended a talk at which the phrase "internal elem" was raised with regard to a rug and was met with hoots. Obviously, whether others think the idea is nutty or perfect has little bearing on the truth of a proposition. It is often pointed out that just about every revolutionary idea was originally rejected. That's absolutely true. But the people who say that usually forget that most of the ideas that are rejected are wrong. Only a very small fraction contain the seeds of revolution.

Like you, I see no sensible way to pursue the question unless it progresses beyond the anecdotal and becomes based on data of some sort. In my academic profession the burden of proof is always on the proponent of a novel idea, and the burden is generally borne with enthusiasm and great energy. It puzzles me that none of the proponents is willing to undertake even the most trivial kind of data gathering. If I can find time I will try to do a little of it myself next week.


Steve Price

Subject  :  Re:Clear, concise definitions of the hypotheses, please
Author  :  Michael Wendorf mailto:%20wendorfm@home.com
Date  :  11-26-2000 on 07:49 p.m.
Dear Steve and Marla:

A friend of mine who has spent nearly a lifetime in the sciences once told me that almost all interesting, potentially revolutionary, observations turn out to have unexciting explanations. But some do turn out to have exciting, even revolutionary explanations. The problem is that it is impossible to know the category in which the next interesting observation with an exciting or revolutionary explanation will occur until it gets pursued.

Throughout the past week, I have attempted to articulate an observation that I and many others have made and at least one explanation for that observation. I believe it merits further pursuit. But I will also add that some of the posts have taken and continue to take part of the explanation, or ignored important parts of the explanation for this observation and made persistent arguments that I believe do nothing to advance the explanation. My own patience and ability to advance the explanation has probably been tested and exceeded. I do believe that my description of the so-called Sikri hypothesis is a fair and accurate one no matter how persistently some are in believing otherwise.

In any event, I think it hardly appropriate or timely to make sweeping conclusions or dismiss the hypothesis. The matter needs to be pursued and I believe that any fair minded reader who has an interest in doing so will be able to understand the Sikri hypothesis, and even the Bard hypothesis for that matter, from the existing posts and take their pursuit and inquiry further. I wish you all good luck in this pursuit.

One final note to Marla: The Berlin carpet seen in either orientation is consistent with the larger theory. Of course, this proves nothing by itself. But in considering this hypothesis further I hope you remember to honor the intent of the weaver/artist - whatever that intent turns out to be.

Best, Michael Wendorf

Subject  :  Re:Clear, concise definitions of the hypotheses, please
Author  :  Steve Price mailto:%20sprice@hsc.vcu.edu
Date  :  11-26-2000 on 10:10 p.m.
Dear Michael,

1. I agree 100% that the notions being discussed warrant further pursuit. I thought I had made that much pretty clear. It would be useful if the further pursuit took some form other than more anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is a good reason to start thinking about something, but if it never gets beyond that, nothing happens.
2. I don't think it makes one whit of difference whether you are accurately representing what Sikri said and thought or not. The important issue is only what is or is not demonstrably true about the weavings.
3. I approach the whole matter in the way almost anyone in my field would. The default response to any new hypothesis is skepticism, and it is the responsibility of the proponent to generate the evidence and assemble it into a coherent argument that either persuades or fails to do so. Until that happens, the hypothesis is considered to be incorrect or, at the very least, unlikely to be correct. It is counterproductive to accept every novel idea as true just because a few will turn out to be true and important. That means we have no choice but to set criteria for acceptability. One of these is that there has to be more than anecdotal evidence. The strength of my conviction that stepping on a crack would break mother's back is not a good reason for you to believe the same thing.


Steve Price

Powered by UltraBoard 2000 <http://www.ub2k.com/>