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The Oldest Known Carpet in the World: The Pazyryk Rug


Segment of a 2500 year old Turkish carpet (The oldest known carpet in the world found in Pazyryk, Altai Mountains of Central Asia)

Segment of a 2500 year old Turkish carpet
(The oldest known carpet in the world found in Pazyryk, Altai Mountains of Central Asia)


Turks are well known for their carpet weaving culture. Their present day carpets and kilims are known throughout the world. Carpet weaving is a very old Turkish culture that goes back in history for thousands of years. The oldest known carpet in the world is a Saka carpet discovered by archaeologists in Central Asia. (Saka people were one group of the forefathers of the present day Turkish peoples). These Turkic speaking Central Asiatic people lived in a vast geographic area covering all of Eurasia -starting from Central asia to the Balkans. A group of them known to the ancient Greeks as PELASGIANS lived on some of the islands in the Aegean Sea (such as the Lemnos Island and the mainland Greece), in the time period from about 1500 to 200 B.C. This Saka carpet is known as the PAZYRYK carpet and is named after the place called Pazyryk in the Altay Mountains. It was found in an ancient "kurgan" burial chamber and is dated to be about 2500 years old.

It was an ancient custom with the Central Asiatic Turkic peoples to bury their deads with some of their earthly belongings. In this case, the Pazyryk rug and other objects that included a saddle cover of felt and leather, felt figures of swans stuffed with goat hair, a horse harness with carved wooden ram's heads and other objects were buried with the dead person [1, p. 558-559]. Generally such organic material disintegrate in the ground over long periods of time. But this was a lucky case. The burial chamber was somehow flooded with water and then frozen solid. It remained in a frozen state for 2500 years until it was discovered by Russian archaeologists. The Pazyryk carpet is at present located in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, Rusia.

The Pazyryk carpet is made with the Turkish knot system used in carpet weaving and has horse patterns with saddle clothes which are typically Turkish. It is an ancient custom of Central Asiatic horse riding peoples to trim the manes of their horses short and even leave a few well separated clumps of mane long and standing up. Another custom is to turn the lower end of the tail hairs up and tie them in a bundle. These Turkish customs are well portrayed in the Pazyryk carpet. The culture lives today.

The ancestors of Turks whose economy and life style were based on animal husbandry such as raising sheep, cattle and horse were very much dependent on wool products from their sheep herds. They knew how to make felt to cover the outsides of their yurts to protect themselves from the bitter cold of Central Asia and Siberia. They made carpets to furnish their living quarters, decorate their rooms and their horses as we see from the patterns of colorful saddle clothes shown in the Pazyryk Carpet. Designing and weaving such a complex and colorful carpet as the Pazyryk carpet is a credit to the ancestors of Turks, who must have started their carpet making culture many thousands of years earlier. This is an indication of how ancient Turkish carpet culture is.

By Polat Kaya

1] Nina Hyde and photographer Cary Wolinsky, "Wool - Fabric of History", National Geographic Magazine, vol. 173, No. 5, May 1988.


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