Everyone’s raving about ChatGPT. It’s an AI that, among other things, can converse with you, compose poetry and improve your code. A friend of mine uses it as inspiration for his homework assignments.
But what can an AI chatbot tell me about my own PhD topic? I study ancient Egyptian landscape and climate change, specifically the way in which the landscape was depicted on the walls of private tombs, such as scenes taking place in the desert and marshland. Do these images reflect the local landscape or a more universal concept of what the world looked like according to the ancient Egyptians? Can we see fluctuations in the climate (that we know have occured based on recent studies) reflected in them? These are questions that I’m trying to answer. So, can ChatGPT help me with this?
Let’s ask it a basic question first:
Fair enough, that’s how one could start a discussion of the ancient Egyptian landscape, but it remains on the surface. Let’s go deeper into climate change:
I like how it mentions that droughts and flooding events occured, and that these could severely impact society. The info on ancient climate change is still very general however.
So what does it think about societal collapse?
I really like how it mentions that societal collapse happened locally rather than nation-wide, as indeed the provinces of Middle Egypt seemed to have thrived during the First Intermediate Period, and Tell Edfu actually experienced growth rather than decline. The combined factors argument is also often made by Egyptologists.
I asked it some more detailed questions about bioarchaeology at Amarna (“Analysis of dental health shows that the population had a diet rich in grains and other plant-based foods, but also had a significant amount of tooth wear and decay, indicating that they may have had a high sugar diet. Skeletal analysis also revealed a high incidence of osteoarthritis, which may have been caused by the hard physical labor required in the construction of the city.”).
It was also in the middle of giving a quite clever answer to the question “How do marshland scenes in Theban tombs reflect the local landscape?” when the bot crashed. When I re-asked it, I received a different answer that was more focused on art and religious beliefs rather than the landscape itself.
In general, ChatGPT can compose pretty good paragraphs about ancient Egyptian landscape, but they stay on the superficial side. I’m glad I won’t have to throw 3 years of PhD research out the door just yet.
Also, luckily for us, Chat GPT is not infallible: