Wool area rugs, and area rugs in general, have been with us since the dawn of human civilization. From the first reed and animal skin rugs used by Paleolithic men, to modern machine-loomed wool area rugs decorating multi-million dollar homes, area rugs have been prized possessions of many a household. In the days of Jesus, sheep was reared, their wool sheared and made into wool area rugs, one or two of which He probably might have used; 500 years earlier, it was not unusual for another such man, Buddha, to sit on a coarse woolen area rug and talk to his disciples. Both were eastern men, and oriental rugs were an important part of the life of the Orient.
The earliest area rug was discovered by Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko in a Russian archaeological exploration in 1949. Made of hand-woven wool, the Pazyryk area rug’s exquisite design, texture and its rich colors were remarkably well-preserved in the frozen Siberian burial site where it had laid hidden under the earth for 25 long centuries. This wool area rug is an exceptional example of Saka art, featuring a hand-knotting technique still used in modern times.
Another famous wool area rug from the ancient times is the legendary “Spring of Khosrau,” an enormous and richly decorated hand-knotted area rug belonging to the King of Persia. Made about 550 BC, this area rug was made of wool, silk, gold, silver and gemstones. It had beautiful springtime sceneries woven into its texture, and its “flowers in bloom”, birds, green meadows and other carpet art are wonders of Persian carpentry. No wonder the King spent many a long winter evening wandering along its four hundred thousand square feet area, and admiring the exquisite art of his carpeteers.
Carpetmaking is an ancient household tradition in Turkey as well. A group of eighteen carpets, called the Konya carpets, is the oldest surviving knotted pile area rug in the world. Woven in the 13th century, in the Anatolia peninsula, these wool area rugs were produced under the Seljuc dynasty and had calligraphy borders called kufi, as well as symmetrical geometrical designs repeated at the center field.
The Indus Valley civilization in modern day India and Pakistan shows signs of some of the earliest area rug manufacture. A wide variety of spindles and weaving material has been discovered in these ruins. Four thousand years later, the Mughal conquerors brought to this very same region the art of area rug-making, an art that was developed in India into the exquisite perfection that it has today.
Oriental area rugs first entered Europe with the returning Crusaders. But these were mainly used on walls and table tapestries, and were considered too precious to be actually used as area rugs. With the colonization of the Orient, a large importing of oriental area rugs began to take place.
The earliest known European-made area rugs began to be produced in Spain around the time of the Moorish invasion. A lot of these were wool area rugs. These had the distinct impact of the conquering Islamic civilization; they had the same floral motifs, geometrical patterns, delicacy of color and lack of any human figures as had the Persian and Turkish area rugs and other Oriental rugs.
From Spain, the art of rug-manufacturing spread to France. During the seventeenth century onwards, important battles fought by France were gloriously depicted on area rugs of that era. The art slowly spread to England and other areas of the Continent; in England, the earliest surviving rugs, called the Bayes rug, are to be found in the Cathedral of the city of that name. They have exquisite designs and depictions of battles against France.