The Pazyryk Carpet


The Pazyryk Carpet (photo from Doris Leslie Blau)

How Far Back Does the Weaving of Piled Carpets Go?

Until 1949, we really did not know. There are fragments of centuries-old flatweaves, but it was always the prevailing opinion that piled rugs were hundreds of years old, not thousands!

That changed in 1949. The Russian archaeologist, S. I. Rudenko, uncovered the tomb of a Scythian prince in the Altai Mountains in Russia near the Outer Mongolian border. The tomb, which carbon dating puts in the 5th Century B.C., had been opened by grave robbers. It subsequently filled with water and froze…..part of a glacier for some 2500 years.

Tapestry in the Heritage Museum. St. Petersburg, Russia Image by Tatyana Kazakova from Pixabay

When Rudenko found it, one of the items that remained was a piled carpet, preserved all this time in ice. The design of the rug is relatively sophisticated, with five border stripes; the widest depicts horsemen and the secondary band contains naturalistic renditions of deer. The field has a quatrefoil pattern,  and the colors are dark red, light blue, greenish-yellow, orange, and other shades. The construction is surprisingly fine, averaging some 225 knots per square inch. Surprisingly fine for a carpet woven with the Ghiordes, or Turkish, knot.

The question is, what would Scythian nomads be doing with such a sophisticated work of art? It could have, of course, originated as a product of these people (probably not), or as a result of trade with civilizations of the Middle East. The existence of similar motifs in Mesopotamian art of that period would strongly suggest that the rug originated there.

Other fragments were later found 100 miles west of Pazryk, at Bash Adar, in Scythian burial grounds that pre-date Pazryk by 1 or 2 centuries. Finally, we learned that highly technical piled weaving was much older than the 700 years we had previously thought., and were in existence at least 2500 years ago! What is amazing is that the second oldest carpet in existence is someone thousand years younger than the Pazryk Carpet.

For those of us in the rug business, what an incredible, fortuitous, and lucky find for the rug world!

And a personal note, I was fortunate, in 1969, to see the Pazryk Carpet, in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) at its home in the Hermitage Museum. Truly, a spectacular day for a youngster who would later enter the rug business!


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