History of Rugs

The art of rug weaving is an ancient craft that has changed very little over the centuries. While the designs of rugs and carpets have continually changed, as far as we know, the basic techniques used for rug weaving are the same today as they have always been.

As early as the fifth century B.C., the techniques used for rug weaving had already attained a high degree of precision and little has changed since then. Rug weaving most likely started in the ancient period with the people living in eastern Asia Minor (present-day eastern Turkey). Strong evidence supports this theory.

By about 4000 B.C., the modern sheep (Ovis Aries Linnaeus) had already been domesticated in eastern Asia Minor, the Caucasus region of western Asia. This area is historically the land of the Urartians or early Armenians. In all probability, rug weaving naturally evolved from the many uses of wool in the region. Most of the earliest examples of hand woven rugs and carpets use the wool of sheep. Goat hair and later camel hair as well as silk was also used, but most experts agree that sheep wool was first to be used and continues to dominate rug weaving today.

The Caucasus region in Asia Minor is highly mountainous. As a result in the ancient period (ca. 2000-1500 B.C.), cultural interaction with other peoples was quite limited. It would therefore seem improbable that rug weaving was introduced in the region by different cultures. Rather, this could be why rug weaving was slow to spread from within the region.

In 1949, in a tomb in Pazyryk, southern Siberia, a rug was found and carbon dated to the fourth century B.C. Although various rug experts have attempted an attribution to this rug, according to the late Ulrich Schurmann, an authority on oriental rugs, based on its style and motifs, he concluded that it is late Urartian/early Armenian. The rug depicts intricate designs Armedian dignitaries (a knotted horse tail symbolizes an Armenian delegate). The use of such figures and animals in woven rugs has almost always been found only on Armenian rugs. This rug was woven with alarming precision and a very high degree of workmanship. This kind of handicraft would suggest that rug weaving had been around for several centuries. This rug is currently in the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Pazryk Rug

Recently, in the ancient capital of Armenia, Erebouni, in a grave called Garmir Plour or Red Hill, numerous rug weaving tools were recovered in an excavation. Through carbon dating, these tools were shown to be at least 3,000 years old. It is safe to assume that the art and craft of modern rug weaving technique materialized at least 2,500 ago, and most likely had been in its infancy stage 1,000 years earlier (1500 B.C.).

One of the earliest mentions of rugs and carpets comes from the first Greek historian Herodotus circa 450 B.C. He noted that the people in the Caucasus region use wool dyes derived from plants, and, these colors never loose their brilliance. Many ancient Armenian biblical manuscripts depict rugs in the subject matter. In fact, Armenians in the Caucasus region used numerous methods to attain a wide variety of colors. Most were derived from vegetables, minerals, insects—other like black, white, brown, and gray were naturally occurring from the animals. The most noteworthy is the red color derived from a worm found only in the soils of Armenia. It was mentioned by Arab historians numerous times in literature as being remarkedly vivid. Among the Armenians this was known as vortan garmir, “the worm’s red” (a distant relative of the Cochinilla). Through this important color, various shades were also attained—from pale pink to dense violet.

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