Posted by Patrick Weiler on 01-22-2002 09:13 PM:

Design Source


Have you considered a design source for the unique layout of these unusual Turkmen mafrash?
There do not seem to be larger weavings from which this pattern was reduced, as is the case with many small-format tribal weavings derived from larger rug patterns.
The only type of Turkmen trapping visually similar is a camel or horse head cover. In this case, the "white" panels of the mafrash would represent the "open" spaces between the fabric strips of these camel or horse head covers. If I can find a picture of one of these odd weavings, I will try to post it.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by R. John Howe on 01-22-2002 09:22 PM:

Pat -

Maybe the design on the mafrashes is a larger version of one that appears on an even smaller format like a mixed technique tentband. If so, that would help explain the white ground in the compartments.

I'm speculating and haven't looked at any tentbands to see if I can spot anything similar.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 01-23-2002 08:22 AM:

Hi John,

The tentband origin was suggested to me by another person as well. It is certainly a fact that the pile decorated (and all pile) Turkmen tentbands have ivory ground panels, and a stylized tree of life is a common motif within the panels. However, the form of the stylized tree is quite different than in these mafrash (at least, in the tentbands I've seen), and the existence of ivory ground panels in tentbands and this group of mafrash doesn't seem to me to be strong evidence of a relationship. The other features that are common to all the mafrash (the border motifs, for instance) don't occur often - perhaps don't occur at all - in tentbands, and the proportions of the panels are very different in tentbands (long, narrow panels) than in these mafrash.


Steve Price

Posted by Christoph Huber on 01-23-2002 02:16 PM:

Dear all

I'm too adhering to the tent-band-hypothesis and I do so for several reasons:
- Most of the Turkmen white-ground-motifs seem to me flat weave / tent band derived.
- Many tent bands show a kind of ashik adorned by a rosette or a device similar to the ones on Yomud tree-of-life mafrashes.
- The directionality of some of the tree-of-life motifs wouldn't be surprising if we think of tent bands as a possible source.
- Many tent bands have simple zigzag or 'diamond' borders but flower-borders aren't uncommon.
- The 'prototype' of these mafrashes could have been sewn together from some pieces of a tent band. This assumption could be supported by the fact that the ornaments of similar formats (for example the 'turkotek-tree-mafrashes') could be considered as tent band derived as well. Such bags (if they existed at all) could be seen as an other example of 'secondary (?) use' for tent bands, as are the so called wedding-curtains.

But as usual this hypothesis has also its weaknesses:
- The trees-of-life on the mafrashes aren't that near to the ones generally found on tent bands.
- I have no clear idea of the source(s) of tent band ornaments and it's therefore maybe a bit risky to prop too heavy theories on them.

Best regards,

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 01-23-2002 11:40 PM:

Tent Band Source


The tent band theory probably has more merit than the head cover theory, especially considering the possible design transfer via sewing sections of tent bands together. However, as is the custom at Turkotek to mercilessly disembowel any good theory, the tentband theory will only persuade some readers that it is correct if a Tree-of-Life mafrash were to magically appear with the white panels woven in flatweave with pile designs. This "intermediate" example of a bag woven to imitate a tentband-section-mafrash would be arguably conclusive.

Arguably yours,

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Steve Price on 01-24-2002 06:38 AM:

Hi Patrick,

A good theory is one that makes predictions which, if not fulfilled, prove that it is wrong. A theory is "proven" to be correct when many such predictions are fulfilled. A theory that makes no predictions is, for all practical purposes worthless. For that reason, it is considered to be incorrect by default. That's the convention used in science. People who understand it know that one of its consequences is that you can miss the truth from time to time. That is accepted as the price of not being led down every wrong path that can be dreamed up.

The problem with vague hypotheses is that they are impossible to falsify. Accepting them leads to eventually knowing nothing about anything. Disemboweling them is the most useful path we can take if the objective is to find the truth. It's much less fun than accepting our fantasies as being real, though.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 01-24-2002 09:29 AM:

Dear folks -

In the post immediately above, Steve wrote in part:

"...A theory that makes no predictions is, for all practical purposes worthless. For that reason, it is considered to be incorrect by default. That's the convention used in science..."

My thought:

Aha! A chance for an unrelated digression!. I had not known that Steve was such a stern adherent to "the predictivist thesis," but there are those who do not take such a severe view of what uses a theory might have. Or even of what science might be about.

My own training suggested that there are at least two broad groups of theories: those that look to the future and predict and those that look at something that has already happened and offer explanations of it. Both have their uses.

This is especially true since in a number of instances in which quite close prediction is possible (there were some ancient folks that got pretty good at predicting tides) no explanation is, or sometimes can be, offered. And very often in situations where we can ultimately explain quite well what happened (for example, what caused a particular plane crash) we are left with not much better ability to predict the next one.

Anyway, this is only to dissent slightly from Steve's assertion that the only useful theory is one that predicts. Those that merely explain also have their uses. Science is a larger enterprise than some would have it be.

Too bad it doesn't help at all with the mafrash design issues we were discussing only a moment ago. :-) How far away it all seems now ---


R. John Howe

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 01-24-2002 09:48 AM:


Predictably, I would reply to the post.

Thanks for broadening the theory theory. I was getting a headache trying to read Steve's post.

Taking a different tack on the design source, (establishing a vague hypothesis?) is there any thought that the different design could have meant that there was a different use for these mafrash with such a relatively unusual design? Common theory would have it that a different design was woven by a separate group as a way to differentiate them from their neighbors. Such has been the speculation regarding various "gul" designs. This mafrash design was woven by several different tribes. Perhaps it was a design to be used only for bags with a specific purpose.
Now, this "purpose" could be anything from animist religious rituals to agriculturally related, family related, marriage related or other unknown practices.

"Honey, would you please get me the Tree-of-Life mafrash for the meeting I have tomorrow? I would feel naked without it."

Disembowel away!

Theoretically yours,

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Steve Price on 01-24-2002 09:56 AM:

Hi John,

Being able to predict tides without a theoretical underpinning is useful, of course, but not relevant to the issue of hypothesis or theory testing. Having a theoretical model of tides and that predicts accurately would be evidence favoring the correctness of the model. This is because it would have survived that test.

Theories explaining things that have already happened ultimately depend on their foundations having been subjected to some testing (implicitly or explicitly) if they are to be useful. Let me give you a simple example that ought to demonstrate that this is so. We could explain the occurrence of anything - specific rug designs, alphabets, hand grenades, toilet seats - anything at all, by theorizing that it is the result of divine intervention. Or, we could theorize that the whole class of objects is simply a remarkably realistic hallucination. Either one is an untestable theory (not just in practice, but in principle). If you insist that it is correct, nobody can prove you wrong. Not unless it is rejected on the basis of the fact that it is untestable. THAT is why the rule exists.

Incidentally, I don't think the issue of how to test the truth of a statement is peripheral to what we are doing. In fact, I think it is central to much of what we do here.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 01-24-2002 11:11 PM:

Hi Steve -

I was not suggesting that your explanation was off-topic, only that my digression based on it was likely to be. Here, too.

I expect that, as with the organizaton of the American economy (I do hope you're taking in the actions of Enron and Monsanto as indicators of some of its tendencies), we will disagree here. I would be unwilling to reduce "science" to "prediction."

Influenced by my time in organizational settings and corrupted by a little too much reading of literary stuff, I find myself reacting to the notion of "the truth." As my Ford friends, especially the ones in Finance Staff (see? Enron wasn't first), used to say, "it's important to understand the polymorphic nature of truth." And the literary folks too, think, albeit less cynically, that "truths" are probably the best we can manage. The folks in astonomy, I'm sure you know, have been literally swirling recently trying to decide what theoretical street corners to stand on to best view the things they are encountering.

"Operationalism" has long been seen in philosophy as a failed program (no concept, even in quantum mechanics, where they have closed systems, has ever been reduced to its operations, that 's what Heisenberg noticed), and logical positivism is dead but many in American academia seem to go on in terms of a rather narrow "scientizing" and seem not to have noticed that Wittengenstein ever lived.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 01-25-2002 06:31 AM:

Hi John,

We're unlikely to see the economics issue the same way. From my standpoint, some Enron investors foolishly (greedily? - no, that's impossible, only corporations are greedy) put all their eggs in one basket and are now reduced to a level of wealth far higher than that of 90% of the world's population.

I didn't mean to imply that science = prediction or (especially) that truth in the scientific sense is eternal. Only that there are rules we follow in testing truth in the scientific sense, and one of those is that the hypothesis must have predictive consequences or it it untestable. And, if it is untestable, the rules say that we treat it as false. There are many other systems of testing truth, of course, and this one is well under a millennium old, but most people agree that it works fairly well.

One interesting consequence of this rule (a consequence that gives my students fits) is the temporal nature of truth in science. Since something that is untestable is false (virtually by definition), and technology usually proceeds in the direction of providing new ways of measuring and observing, something untestable today - untrue today - may become testable and true tomorrow.

Finally, the whole nature of what we mean by explanation. It seldom means anything more than reducing the description to something with which we are familiar enough to feel comfortable.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 01-25-2002 07:05 AM:

Hi Steve -

I'll desist shortly and we can go back to mafrash designs, as we're likely boring the ruggies to tears.

I would want still to hold that some species of theoretical explanation move beyond mere "comfort" and are descriptions of what actually happened and of how and why it did so. Some of them might even be testable.

I would describe untested and untestable explanations as such. To insist that they be described as false is to ignore a distinction about them that we have already noticed. They have not yet been shown to be true but neither has their falseness been shown.

As you can see, I am not a Karl Popper fan, although he admittedly had a good head. But then so did Aristotle, who saw things quite differently.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 01-25-2002 08:57 AM:

Hi John,

Anyone whose eyes are beginning to glaze over this topic ought to hit the "Back" button on the browser. I think it's important, and I don't think John or I are doing much damage to anyone by pursuing it.

There are plenty of untested and untestable explanations for things that intelligent, educated people accept readily. They are simply using a system of truth testing other than the conventions adopted by science when they do so. That's neither immoral nor idiotic; the world got along OK before these conventions were adopted. Still, many of us think that the scientific method, despite its flaws, is more workable most of the time.

Having said that, whether you or I like it or not, the convention includes defining as false any hypothesis that is, in principle, untestable. Miracles (events resulting from supernatural interventions that temporarily bypass natural laws) may happen, but "It was a miracle" is, by scientific conventions, an untrue explanation for an event. It violates the rule of testability. The underlying rationale for this convention is this: if "It was a miracle" is an acceptable explanation for the event in question, it cannot be eliminated as an explanation for EVERY event. That is, to allow it to be considered stops progress in its tracks (except for the fairly small minority who believe that Providence will take care of all things without our man-made rules).

As for your discomfort with the notion that "explanation" almost always just means reducing the description to things with which we are sufficiently familiar to feel comfortable, I invite you to try to explain anything - and I mean, ANYTHING. Then go one step beyond, and look for the foundation of that explanation. Then go one step beyond that, and so forth. Sooner or later you reach what one writer (wish I remembered which one) called the region where our desire to know reaches an uneasy truce with our ability to understand.

What difference does any of this make to the ruggie, specifically, the ruggie who reads Turkotek? We've had some highs and lows, but the lowest lows (in my opinion, at least, and ignoring the Week of Limericks) were the food fights that resulted from some people insisting that their intuition or the fervor of their beliefs is a sound test of truth. It is for them, but not for anyone else. That is, they can hold personal beliefs as true, but unless we agree on some set of rules, there's little point in discussing them. I default to the conventions of science, and if anyone wants to hold a discussion using some alternative set of conventions, this ought to be done explicitly. Of course, that must include participant agreement about the criteria by which to decide when one person's intuition trumps someone else's. Otherwise, the outcome is a food fight.


Steve Price

Posted by Christoph Huber on 01-26-2002 08:00 PM:

Dear Steve and John

In my understanding we can't expect that a theory in the field of rug studies (and in many others too) will reach the highest standards of an exact science but I agree that hypothesises which are
in principle untestable should definitely be avoided. I never would claim to be able to offer any proof but I think that a theory gets "weight" the more it can be linked to other pieces of theory, the better it fits into the picture. It's like a jigsaw puzzle and the "prediction" every piece of theory implicitly makes (and which makes it at least theoretically testable) is that it will fit to as many related "jigsaw-pieces" as possible and hopefully contradict none of them. But of course there's unfortunately no hope ever being able to see the whole picture.
Trying to go a bit deeper into some of the already mentioned links of the "tent-band-theory" with other hypothesises and add some new ones, I hope to sketch with gross strokes in which directions further research could be interesting:

- For the question whether the design source of tree-of-life mafrashes has something to do with tent bands the existence of intermediate pieces (composed of tent band fragments or, as Patrick suggested, with pile ornaments on flatwoven ground) is of second importance.
Nevertheless as mentioned in my previous post ak yüps were used as "raw material" for other textiles and 'Music for the eyes' cat. 165 shows a Kirghiz double bag composed of (tent band?) stripes. A mixed technique mafrash would be very, very unusual but looking at the ak chuval elem shown in 'Woven Structures' 2.87 it is not unthinkable that one ever existed.

- I would say there
are one panel examples related to this type of mafrashes. Spindle bags as Jourdan, Turkmenische Teppiche No. 181 have a design very near to the tree-of-life as shown on the mafrashes, only the ashik is missing.
Needless to say that virtually all so called spindle bags have designs which seem to me tent band or flatweave derived. By the way, Wie Blumen in der Wüste No 15 has the flower border of the mafrashes.

- As No 331 in Jourdan, Orientteppiche (the same piece is also to be seen in the background of a picture in HALI 42, p. 90) a five panel kapunuk of the same design group is presented. The outer two panels are lengthened, so to say, and form the two "arms" as uninterrupted bands of trees-of-life.

- There are other groups of "panel-mafrashes" which seem to have a strong relation to tent bands. The same is true for the group to which Jourdan, Turkmenische ..., No 174 belongs. If I'm not mistaken these latter weavings are attributed to Yomud and Tekke, just as it is done with the tree-of-life mafrashs and they may reflect a similar pattern of design migration.
I think discussing these types of mafrashes the important question about design migration is not the inter-tribal one but the migration from one type of weaving to an other.

- Steve, you ask in the Salon why there are virtually no Ersari tree-of-life mafrashes and I think the same would be true for the other related types as well. Maybe it's mere coincidence, but do you know any ak yüp attributed to the Ersari?

Best regards,

Posted by Steve Price on 01-26-2002 11:06 PM:

Hi Christoph,

I think we see the issue of what constitutes a reasonable basis for a hypothesis pretty much the same way. The rigor of a "hard" science in a field like art history (which, I guess, is the closest academic discipline to what we're discussing) is an unreachable goal, and I recognize that without some compromising we can't get anywhere at all. However, I believe that it is important to be reasonably explicit about the foundations of our musings. And, as we agree, the rule that says that hypotheses which are untestable in principle cannot be included among serious explanations is essential to any hope for progress.

I don't know of any Ersari tentbands. Like the ivory ground mafrash, nearly all examples are Yomud or Tekke, mostly Tekke.

I'm reluctant to get too excited about the spoon bag/spindle bag with the "tree" motif as part of the group. If we're talking about the same spindle bag - the most common of the Yomud spindle bag designs - not only is the ashik missing, the "tree" itself is a very different looking thing than the one in these mafrash.


Steve Price

Posted by Christoph Huber on 01-27-2002 10:23 AM:

Dear Steve

The following picture showing a part of the above mentioned kapunuk and the spindle/spoon bag should depict the corresponding design elements.

On the Saryk and Ersari pieces I'm aware of, this design element is replaced by flowers.
Are there any Tekke and Yomud pieces with flowers instead of the "tree-of-life-branches" or Saryk, Ersari,... pieces which retained them?

Best regards,

Posted by Steve Price on 01-27-2002 11:10 AM:

Hi Christoph,

Those "tree of life" motifs are, indeed, like the ones on the mafrash. I was thinking of the more common Yomud tree taht's found on most spindle bags.


Steve Price

Posted by Marvin Amstey on 01-28-2002 10:04 AM:

If I'm not mistaken, published speculation about this motif is that it depicts pomegranates hanging from branches as seen on Beshir prayer rugs. Is this the tree-of-life???

Posted by Steve Price on 01-28-2002 10:12 AM:

Hi Marvin,

The reason I keep putting "tree of life" in quotation marks is to emphasize that I don't think there's any compelling reason to think it represents a tree, much less a tree of life. On the other hand, we have to call it something during discussion, and "tree of life" seems as good a name as any other as long as we don't forget the uncertainties.


Steve Price