Research: The Bootstrapping

So You Want To Do Some Research.

Maybe you’re doing a lot of work with the Kemetic calendar, say. Maybe you have a personal devotion to Nut, and thus are doing a lot of poking at various Egyptian thoughts about the night sky. (Maybe you have other interests as well, which also tie into that wee star obsession.) Maybe some time with Hetharu has gotten you interested in Dendera zodiac. Maybe you were digging through some Duat-related texts and saw ranks of figures crowned with stars and wanted to know who they were.

Maybe something like all of these. Certainly, all of these are part of my deal.

But anyway: a research topic has been picked! Let us research the decans stars. A bit of poking around on websearches makes it clear that we’re not 100% certain what actual stars they were, though of course we know Sopdet.

Well, maybe at least we can get a list of names, right?

After a bunch of poking fruitlessly at websearches (I actually am genuinely bad at finding things on the web; for critical stuff I have some friends that I ask ‘Can you find this thing?’, but mostly I just faff around with mild variants of searches until I find something that points me in a useful direction and lets me get at a better source – a page with a bibliography, say), it occurred to me that I had some books that were there for my calendar research, and one of them might have something useful in it for this sub-project.

So I hauled out Marshall Clagett’s big yellow Ancient Egyptian Science Volume II: Calendars, Clocks, and Astronomy. Now, I will readily admit that I have yet to successfully read this book; I find the prose stultifyingly opaque. I wonder sometimes if it’s because it was published by the American Philosophical Society, since I find a lot of philosophy stultifyingly opaque. Every so often I take a running start and make a go at it and crash painfully into the first twenty pages.

But the book does have a lot of endnotes, and in those endnotes I found “A comparative listing of the two families of decans in the zodiac of Esna A” and “The decans of the zodiac of Hephaestion compared with the decans of the families designated Seti I B and Tanis”. Which was something to start with; I copied the four lists of Egyptian names into a chart.

marked-up list of decansOf course, two of the lists turned out to be identical, and two were very similar, and there was a lot of irritation at getting a program that would let me at least fake the transcriptions so I could get things like the s-hacek and something that was close to most of the other characters involved in writing out transliterated Egyptian.

But in the end, I got a list, and I printed it out, and I attacked it with highlighters. Yellow for things that existed in all four columns! That one blue line for things that might be the same (different spelling, very similar sound)! Pink for stuff like the one that’s one two-word decans in lists one and three, and two one-word decans in two and four! Purple for things that only appeared in two sets, green for things that only appeared in the other two! Which includes … “spdt”. Fuck. Orange for things that were clearly related in lists…. Okay.

Well, that didn’t really leave me feeling closer to anything productive, though I picked out a few patterns with the markup, and that was good to know. I don’t really know how solid this book is as a resource – whether or not the American Philosophical Society does peer review or anything else – but it at least gives me something to point at and think about.

And after a bit of letting that sit, I got the brilliant idea of doing some websearches on decans names that were consistent across the board. I picked out some of the ones that didn’t have complex transcriptions (searching on s-hacek or k-with-a-dot-under-it might make it more likely I’ll get useful hits, but I don’t know if everyone’s doing their transcriptions right!), so I picked stuff like ‘ipsd’ and ‘knmw’ and got a lot of company acronyms until I added ‘decans’ to the search.

And then I found this article, which was a big score, aside from needing to do more lists and cross-comparisons of decans. Which I haven’t done yet, because I’m still digesting information from the article, but that is at least doing stuff that is relevant to me, and is also talking about previous work and refining it and doing all that fussy and warm-fuzzy theory-building stuff that is very, very, tasty. So I look up the research that it’s building on, and find the book, and find …

… the cheap copies are around $2000.

The sound you hear is my head hitting the table.

But! Librarian friend points me at a search site that will see what libraries have it! I may be able to look at it through Inter-Library Loan! Hooray! So … that can get added to my list of things to do…


3 thoughts on “Research: The Bootstrapping

  1. That’s some really good work there! I wish you good luck, I hope you get a hold of a copy of the book you need soon.
    And thank you for the link to the article, I saved it to give it a read tonight.
    Keep us posted with your findings please :)

  2. SatAset says:

    Inter-Library Loan has been a huge help in my research as well. I love libraries. Thank you for the link to the article. I shall read it.

  3. Ekunyi says:

    Stepping out the blog-lurking shadows just to offer a salute for your research efforts! I think this sort of thing is part of what drew me to academia in the first place — it’s as close to an epic quest as one gets in the modern day. Best of luck in taking on that $2000 dragon! ;)

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