In the late 1940s, a team of Russian archeologists led by Professor Sergei Rudenko excavated a burial site in the Pazyryk valley of Siberia, near the borders of Russia, Mongolia and China. The area was known to be inhabited by the Scythian peoples over 2,000 years ago. What Professor Rudenko and his team unearthed was a treasure trove of artifacts that provided intriguing insight about this ancient nomadic tribe. Because the area had been buried in the permafrost of the Russian steppes since the 5th century BCE, all the artifacts they uncovered were remarkably well-preserved. Among their findings were embalmed human remains, a four-wheel chariot, cloth saddles, cannabis seeds–as well as the oldest known knotted rug, which became known as the Pazyryk Carpet.
Made from wool and knotted by hand, the Pazyryk carpet is now housed in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The rug is 183 cm by 200 cm (72 x 79 inches) in size and worked in various shades of red, green and blue. The museum’s website describes this beautiful early specimen of the oriental rug: “Its decoration is rich and varied. The central field is occupied by 24 cross-shaped figures, each of which consists of 4 stylized lotus buds. This composition is framed by a border of griffins, followed by a border of 24 fallow deer. The widest border contains representations of work-horses and men.”
The origin of this amazing carpet has been the subject of debate. Most experts believe that it must have been created in Central Asia, possibly Persia or Armenia. The level of artistry and craftsmanship evident in the rug point to the handiwork of a settled and highly cosmopolitan culture; not likely a product of the nomadic Pazyryks. Archeologists theorize that the rug may have been an article of trade, as items from China and India were also found at the burial site.
What was this carpet used for? Did it keep the ground warm inside the nomads’ tent? Was it used for religious or ceremonial rituals? Was it valued for its beauty and used as a decorative ornament? Unfortunately we will never know. What is clear is that this carpet was a treasure deemed so valuable, it was buried along with its owner. A stunning example of the strength, longevity and enduring beauty of oriental rugs, the Pazyryk carpet reminds us how people have cherished and valued their rugs from earliest times.