The Pazyryk Carpet: roll call – the response of descendants to the message of their ancestors

The Pazyryk Carpet: roll call – the response of descendants to the message of their ancestors

In ancient times, when Turkmen carpets began to be shown in Europe, they were most often synonymous with “Persian”, “Afghani”, “Bukhara” carpets … This is of course not correct, but the mistake is understandable considering that carpets of amazing beauty and quality weaved by Turkmen women in a land surrounded by sand, mountains and sea, were delivered to large markets of the East, and from there – the ubiquitous merchants exported them to different parts of the world. And because of this, the Turkmen carpets were misnamed by merchants after the country they were sold, not produced.

However, this historical injustice regarding the origin of Turkmen carpets often takes place today.

Famous Russian ethnographic art collector Samuel Dudin, who was dealing with study on Islamic art in Central Asia, considered the Turkmen carpets to be the most ancient and emphasized the obvious difference in the style of Turkmen and Persian rugs, different placement of a loom, different style of weaving and finishing material, different tonality and higher technique of the works testifying to the fact that the carpet craft of Turkmens is just as old, if not older, as the Persian.

According to archaeologist Dr. Igor Khlopin, who made many historical discoveries in Turkmenistan:

“Let us not only date the appearance of famous carpet ornaments back to the depths of millennia but also trace as deeply the roots of the Turkmen people in their original territory. We can say that the origins of knotted carpet weaving go even deeper and it is considered one of the ethnic features of the Turkmen people, who practiced pile weaving, raising the question of revising the established traditional point of view on its origin. ”

The Pazyryk Carpet, the oldest known carpet on earth, a copy of which was shown today at the International Exhibition-Fair in Ashgabat, dedicated to the Carpet Day, testifies that origins of carpet weaving art are very old.

As for the original itself, the Pazyryk Carpet, President Berdimuhamedov in his book The Living Legend, in which he invites readers to take a fresh look at the art of Turkmen carpet weaving, writes as follow:

“The oldest Turkmen carpets, until recently, have been dated back to the end of the 18th century. However, now, by the method of radiocarbon testing, many items of the late XV-XVI centuries have been identified. This is an indisputable evidence that some of our carpets “live” for more than four centuries! Images of the old rugs can be found in paintings by medieval masters (which indicates the huge popularity of the masterpieces of Turkmen art in all foreseeable times). There is, however, a genuine – “living” message of centuries: the so-called the Pazyryk Carpet, which came to us thanks to a happy coincidence … ”

This carpet was discovered in the burial mounds in the frozen fifth Pazyryk Valley by famous Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko in 1949.  Similar valleys in Altai were erected over the graves of noble nomadic chiefs.

The miraculous excavation of the Pazyryk Carpet, indeed, can be called a happy coincidence. Archaeologists say that there was a funnel – traces of an ancient robbery of a grave – in the middle of the gravesite. The grave was robbed and left open, so it caused the water penetration. As the stone mound had the poor ability to retain heat, there formed a special microclimate with a lower temperature, thus allowing the entered water eventually freeze over the next years. When the carpet was found it had been deeply frozen in a block of ice, which is why it is so well-preserved. The Pazyryk Carpet can be seen at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

The sensational find that shocked the scientific world was a matter of debate among archaeologists, historians, art historians, writers, and journalists. Researchers were divided mainly into two groups regarding disputes about its origin and affiliation: one believed the carpet discovered was a product of the Persian Empire, while other considered the carpet to be of Turkic origin.


The excavation supervisor, Sergei Rudenko, who initially assumed the Pazyryk Carpet to be of ancient Persian, after serious researches of the technology of carpet weaving and analysis of the ornament, concluded that the discovered carpet was made on the horizontal frame by Turkic knotting technique.

Professor Ovez Gundogdyev, who compared the method of knotting carpets among different nations, is of the same opinion. According to the scientist, the ancient methods of knotting on the Pazyryk Carpet completely coincide with the way that the Turkmen carpets are being made from ancient times until nowadays.

The way how the ancient Turkmen carpet reached Altai can be explained by the nomadic way of life of the ancestors of the Turkmens (Turanian Daho-Parthian). Moving from the territory of Turkmenistan to the east – towards Altai and Mongolia, they brought the art of carpet weaving to those lands.

The famous archaeologist Mikhail Masson, who discovered Nisa, Ancient capital of the Parthian Empire, ruins of which can be found in a territory of Ashgabat, also noted:

“The idea how the old Parthian carpets were about can be partly given by a multicolored wool pile carpet excavated by archaeologists in 1949 in the fifth Pazyryk valley in Altai.”

In fact, it is surprising that, on modern Yomud carpets, even now you can see the “anchor” – the royal sign of Arsakid dynasty of Parthian kings.

Along with foreign art historians and art critics, Turkmen scientists also wrote about this carpet. So, Ahmed Bekmuradov believed that the Pazyryk Carpet is really very similar to the Yomud carpets by its composition, and the 24 central ornaments symbolize the 24 tribes of the Turkmen Oguzes.

Also, Turkish researcher Nejat Diyarbekirli wrote:

“There is no doubt, the Pazyryk Carpet with its square divisions is the source for the main composition of rugs woven by Oguzes … This motif is the basis for the octahedron of Seljuk patterns and “gyols”on modern Turkmen carpets. This type of carpet decoration can often be found on Turkmen carpets … ”

Indeed, the data provided by various authors, namely those who are really familiar with Turkmen carpet art, has proved that the Pazyryk Carpet is a product of ancient Turkmen carpet weaving art.

Let us recall that the copy of the famous Pazyryk Carpet, which President Berdimuhamedov called the “living” message of centuries, was shown today in Ashgabat at the International Exhibition-Fair.

The next masterpiece was created by the hands of Turkmen women of the capital’s enterprise of carpet weaving, the State Association “Turkmencarpet” (“Türkmenhaly”). They, the heiresses of ancient art, have managed to weave the carpet that has a knot density of 385,000 (!) knots per square meter, more than 1,563,100 (!) knots in the whole carpet! The technique of the knot is completely same that the famous Pazyryk Carpet has preserved for us.

Last but not least, let us recall, the traditional Turkmen carpet making art has been added to UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by unanimous decision of this authoritative committee.

photo by Suleyman CHARIYEV