Medinet Habu frequency analysis: simple method, amazing insights


What is a “frequency analysis”?  Simple. It is a basic count of the number of times a certain attribute appears within the given dataset.  But despite its simplicity, it can sometimes provide amazing insights for the trained eye.

With a frequency analysis, we show the frequency with which an attribute appears in the dataset.   For each variable, the actual number of occurrences is determined, as is the percentage of scenes in the sample that number represents.   Below is a frequency table for a selection of variables at Medinet Habu.

MH sample frequency table

As you can see, frequency reports are simply tallies.  Simple frequency analysis alone is inadequate for the purposes of this project. However, by looking at even such basic data, a few interesting patterns can be perceived.

As a modern example, in any election the winner is decided by a frequency analysis—how many times did each candidate get a vote?  As you did deeper, you start counting specifics: how many women voted, how many college graduates voted, etc.  Once you have done a sufficient number of frequency analyses, you can then move on to the next level so that a trained researcher can extract patterns.  In this example, why did women vote a certain way?  Are there other variables that could be driving their choices?

Likewise, in my study of Medinet Habu, I first counted how many times variables occurred.  This frequency analysis is the first step in statistical research.  In a future article, I will show examples of the advanced analytical methods applied to the results of the frequency study.

At Medinet Habu the two types of aprons worn by the king, the flanking apron and the multiple apron (so named for the number and placement of the uraei [cobras] at the base), show clearly different usage patterns, made evident simply by counting the number of occurrences.


While the multiple apron is more prominent in the battle scenes, appearing in 48.8% of those scenes, the flanking apron is used only 22% of the time.  Considering this overall tendency, it is noteworthy that the flanking apron is chosen for four of the seven scenes at Medinet Habu where spoil is offered to the king.  One scene is too damaged to determine which type of apron the king wears and in the other two he wears the multiple apron.  Interestingly, these two scenes are both on the interior of the temple—one on the first pylon and the other on the south wall of the second courtyard.

In contrast, of the 19 scenes that show the king presenting bound foes and battle spoil to the gods, only once does he wear a flanking apron.  The remaining examples (save once that is damaged beyond determination) all show that pharaoh was wearing the multiple apron in this context.

Basic though they may be, frequency analyses can obviously be quite useful for quickly highlighting large patterns.  They also provide a springboard for digging deeper with more complex analytical methods.

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  1. Sammie Monteith07-01-2010

    Interesting read, thanks! I finally see the larger picture :)

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The Art of Counting is dedicated to the memory of Margery Meilleur, who first taught me to view history through the eyes of the images we create.