The Pazyryk Persian Rug–a Magic Carpet Indeed
The magic of old rugs is that they’re not only beautiful to look at, but that they tell a story. The colors, figures, and symmetry of these carpets transcend continents and centuries, and give us a glimpse into civilizations and cultures long gone. Historians see antique rugs as a looking glass into the past, and sometimes a rug appears that turns that looking glass into something along the lines of the magic wardrobe from Narnia.
Such a find happened in Siberia in 1949, when a Russian archaeologist, Sergei Rudenko, excavated a burial tomb, or kurgan in the Pazyryk valley, near the border of China and Mongolia. These gigantic tombs contained everything the principal occupant would need for the afterlife, including the other family members (tombs took years to build). The mummies excavated with this dig were so well-preserved in ice that they still had hair and recognizable tattoos. Other artifacts in the tomb included furniture, a full-size chariot, saddles, devotional objects—and some cannibis seed and the accompanying inhalation tent. This would have been a royal burial tomb given the size and treasure found inside.
The Scythian society who inhabited the valley during the Iron Age (around 400BCE) were a wealthy tribe, judging from the artifacts and rich materials found in the tombs. What has been described as a “freak” freeze sometime after the tombs were completed encased the burial totems in ice for hundreds of years and preserved the contents of the kurgans.
One of the most significant artifacts from the discovery is the Pazyryk rug–the oldest pile carpet ever found. Archaelogists and rug historians are unsure of the provenance of the rug, but carbon dating has determined that it was woven around 400-500 BCE.
When the nomadic Sycthian tribe roamed Europe and Asia, some did build great wealth trading some goods, but especially horses along the Silk Road with China, India, and Persia. The Sycthians spoke Persian, but considered the huge Central Asian territory from Bulgaria, Ukraine, and China to be theirs, and as they had the vast herds of horses at their command they were mobile and mounted warriors.
The symbolism of the Sycthian warrior is woven into the Pazyryk rug, although he rug is believed to have been woven in Persepolis, in Persia. Twenty-eight horsemen–some mounted, some walking– line up on the edge of the rug. This number corresponds to the 28 males who carried the golden throne of Xerxes to Persepolis. Another band closer to the center also has 28 horsemen depicted; each saddle blanket is woven with a different tree of life motif. The horses in this band represent nobility and valor, and are going in the opposite direction from an adjoining band of stags, which represent long life. A pair of rosettes in the center of the rug, thought to be lotus blossoms, represent the Scythian harmony with the sun.
The carpet is remarkably intact, thanks to being frozen for centuries. The original colors, vivid yellows, blues, and reds, have faded somewhat, but the dense pile remains. This pile is one of the reasons that the rug’s patterns and symbols are still so well-defined. The knotting technique, a symmetrical double or Turkish knot, was used in Armenia and Turkey as well as Persia, so the 1,250,000 knots in the rug do not confirm its provenance as Persian. Some rug experts have suggested the Sycthians, locally well-known barbarians, had a Persian rug copied for the chief warrior or king. Antique rugs are prized for many things, not the least which is durability–rugs that were made as a tent floor in the desert will certainly wear well for your family’s everyday use.
What is clear is that the rug was a highly valued possession to be included in the royal kurgan. Even if you’re not a royal warrior, come by Landry & Arcari and we’ll treat you like one. In fact, we have over a dozen Pazyryk designs in-stock!