||Joseph McMullan on the Pazaryk Carpet
In the summer Of 1957, I was
privileged to view for a few short hours, the
prehistoric carpet excavated by the U.S.S.R.
archeologists Rudenko and Griasnor, which is now
on exhibition in the Hermitage.
The carpet was extracted
from kurgen number Five, a frozen grave located
near the Tenesei River in the Altai region,
together with a large variety of other artifacts,
which exhibited certain characteristics of
Scythian art, all dating from approximately 400
Imbedded in solid ice, it
has survived in almost perfect condition, as the
ice apparently formed shortly after the burial
was complete and the tomb covered over.
The rug is nearly square,
approximately two meters in length and breadth.
There are four colors, all clear and bright,
little or no fading, namely, red, yellow, green
and blue. With the exception of small areas eaten
by insects or small animals, all of the wools
seemed to be in excellent health. However, these
spots did enable observation of technique, which
otherwise would have been impossible.
to r. Joseph McMullan (kilt), W. Russell Pickering, H.
McCoy Jones, Ralph Yohe.
|The large central field, also one
border, displays a lotus pattern practically
identical with the well-known Khorsabad rock
relief, Assyrian about 800 B. C. Two minor borders enclose within
beaded squares with rounded corners, griffins of
a type generally familiar in this era. However,
the most significant figures are displayed in the
two major borders. First comes a series of
peacefully grazing elk, moving from right to
left. The snub snout and broad webbed antlers of
this animal bring it to close kindred with the
modern American moose and the Ancient Irish Elk.
These animals are grazers,
sometimes feeding under water. They are in sharp
contrast to the sharp snout and skeletonized or
spiked antlers common to most of the deer family.
The second pattern
comprises a series of horsemen moving from left
to right alternating with grooms on foot, leading
The elk shown in the
primary border is native to Central Asia and
Siberia. It is not found in Assyrian or in the
subsequent art of the Iranian plateau or the
It is impossible to miss
the close connection between the knights and
their grooms in style costume and drawing and the
Omission of the elk from
the design would strongly indicate Persian
manufacture. This is still a possibility as a
survivor of the Scythian penetration into Persia
from about 700 B. C. but its presence cannot be
Although executed with
assurance and skill, a provincial origin is
indicated in three distinct places.
- Near the technical top
of the fabric as the weaver was bringing
her work to a close, she found difficulty
in spacing basic designs.
- In the outer griffin
border, two small floral rosettes are
inserted. A similar pair of rosettes,
much larger in scale, appear in the
- Finally, in the lotus
border the weaver has inserted two rows
of chevrons, drawn in two scales, one
above the other.
Introduction of patterns entirely
unrelated to the basic theme is a sign of provincial
work. The weaver, not under rigid control of a court or
commercial factory, inserted these figures in order to
solve an awkward space problem, which permitted her to
have the basic design elements to reasonably fill the
Black and white illustrations
available in publication bring to us clear representation
of all the designs under discussion. No adequate or even
nearly adequate color representation is as yet available.
Analysis pro and con will certainly
continue as the rug, plus many other objects from this
and kindred grave sites become better known.
Technique is quite another matter.
Due to the early dating, it is of decisive importance.
The sudden appearance of a closely woven carpet with a
very short pile, presumably knotted, rather than with a
cut loop, challenges most previous theories. A few
scattered fragments such as those excavated by Sir Aural
Stein are knotted, but so coarsely so, it seemed they may
have marked the beginning of knotting.
As the carpet is enclosed behind a
glass frontal, it was impossible to handle it.
Concentration on worn or eaten areas disclosed a warp and
weft of wool, and a pile of the same material.
Enough such places made it possible
to observe the method by which the pile was secured by
the foundation thus permitting an analysis. Pile roots
are clearly visible. After examination by eye with good
light in all logical places, it is quite clear this is
true knotting, of the so-called Turkish or Ghiordes type.
It was difficult to secure an
accurate knot count, but the estimate Of 240 knots to the
square inch, as published by Rudenko, seems quite
Joseph V. McMullan
The Fogg Museum
Reprinted with permission from W. Russell.
Pickering's, "don't forget to smell the flowers
along the way"
Oriental Rug Notes by Barry O'Connell