I found Ward’s (1992) article particularly interesting since I am among those who believed that the chronology of ancient Egypt was firmly established and exact. In particular, I found his argument about precision to be very compelling. There really is no reason to think that ancient Egyptians were as precise about their dates, times, and calendars as we are today.
In reference to modern interpretations of astronomical data from ancient Egypt, Ward states that “modern scholarship frequently imposes a precision on ancient science that was never there” (p. 54). He continues by noting that the insistence on one location for astronomical observations is “no more than a desire to impose our own need for uniformity; in other words, it is a modern scholarly illusion” (p. 61). The ancient Egyptians did not have a need to be precise about certain aspects of their political, economic, temporal, or ideological world; rather, they were comfortable with the fact that their civil and lunar calendars were disparate. These calendars served different purposes in ancient times, but for modern (Western) societies, this idea is foreign.
I think the notion of imposing modern concepts–whether it be time, religion, cultural practices, mortuary practices, etc.–on past populations is problematic in both archaeological and bioarchaeological contexts. Difficult as it may be, it is important to analyze and interpret past cultures from an unbiased perspective. There is no reason to assume that modern lifeways were present in the past or had any meaning to ancient cultures.
I found Ward’s argument to be relevant for me since I often forget to take an unbiased or critical approach to interpreting past societies. It was an important reminder to think critically about research that has already been published, and to avoid modern impositions on past cultures. Especially for ancient Egyptian society, which has been extremely well researched, it is still necessary to question previous findings and assumptions and to push our knowledge forward.