The Pazyryk carpet found in Siberia’s Altai Mountains in 1948 is about 2,500 years old. It is currently held in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. It was buried in the tomb of the Prince of Altai, but was left behind by thieves robbing all other objects. The combination of freezing temperatures and the protection of the grave kept it in good condition. These circumstances make it the oldest surviving carpet in the world.
Despite its age, the Pazyryk carpet is not an example of primitive carpet weaving. It was not made by nomads, nor by farmers. Instead, it is a sophisticated work of art full of meaning and symbolism and may not even be the culmination of a period. At least hundreds of years of development had passed before a carpet of such excellent quality and design could be knotted. That period is considered to be the Achaemenid period in what is now known as Iran.
The rug itself, which is almost a perfect square, about 1.83 x 1.98 m, consists of an inner field and a number of edges. The carpet has cross-shaped ornaments, flowers, and diagonal leaves. The center is red. Around the inner rim, eagle-like griffins circulate in the middle of a yellow ground. It is made entirely of wool. At around 3,600 knots per square decimeter of the symmetrical type, it is believed to be from the South Caucasus of our time.
The meaning of the carpet is reflected in the unusual design. It resembled the imagination of the vast and endless steppe over which the carpet was carried until it reached the grave in the Altai. The center of flowery squares is meant for the dead, the borders for the various protective mythical animals, the main border is for the guards on horseback. This masterpiece gives us a glimpse of the enduring meaning and purpose that textiles had for our ancestors.
Photos: Felix van den Belt