Posted by R. John Howe on 01-01-2004 10:00 PM:

More Pazyryk Felts

Dear folks -

I happened onto a book I own today by E. D. Phillips, “The Royal Hordes: Nomad Peoples of the Steppes,” 1965.

Phillips presents more felts from Pazyryk. As most of you know, these items are estimated to be about 2,500 years old.

He starts with an applique piece that he describes as “brightly dyed.”

This is of an eagle-griffin attacking an ibex. He notes the “writhing action and the impossible twist of the hind quarters which are characteristic of later Sarmatian art of Siberia.”

Phillips says that “Among the applique felts (ed. found at Pazyryk) two are pre-eminent. One shows a curious lion-bodied monster with wings, a human head, and antlers, fighting a fantastic bird.

We have only the former creature in the detail image provided.

“…On the other, a rider, wearing a short cloak and tight trousers and bareheaded, approaches a figure seated upon a throne, shaven headed, wearing a fur cap and a long robe, while a ‘tree of life’ stands nearby.”

In the photo caption Phillips says that the seated figure is of “great religious interest…The seated figure is now usually regarded as a form of the Great Goddess of the New East.” He invites comparison with another image in this volume, Ill. 57.

In his caption for this latter image, Phillips explains: “…The figure shown is probably the Great Mother in her Anatolian form of Cybele, holding her lions, in the classic beast-taming posture of the Near East.”

The crispness of the drawing and the rather detailed, sophisticated curvilinear images in these felts make them seem products of “settled” artists.


R. John Howe

Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 01-02-2004 10:21 AM:

Pazyryk Felts

Dear Readers:

I believe that Ludmila Barkova's article on the Pazyryk Felts has not yet been referenced here. Barkova is the curator of the Pazyryk materials at the Hermitage Museum. At the 9th ICOC in Milano she presented a paper on the felts. That article was translated into English by Elena Tsareva of the Russian Ethnographic Musuem and published in Hali 113 beginning on page 74.

Barkova begins her paper by stating that "the early steppe nomads of the Altai region made felt from sheep's wool, using both the soft underfleece and hairy fibres. The resulting fabrics were extremely durable. some were fine and elastic in texture - not unlike the felt used today for making hats - others were thick and more loosely structured. The latter were used for under-saddle cloths and linings of leather mane-covers and horse masks. Fine white felt was used for cloths, headgear and socks, while panels of this quality constitued the main element in ornamented saddle covers and trappings, as well as being used for large scale carpets or wall hangings."

The article then discusses a fragment of a large felt panel unearthed by Gryaznov in Pazyryk kurgan 1 in 1929 as well as the findings of Rudenko in the 5th kurgan in 1949 which included the famous Pazyryk carpet and a remarkable wooden chariot and four incredible three-dimensional felt swans stuffed with deer hair.

These felts are fantastic art with lovely reds and blues and incredible drawing. Images of many of the felts discussed can be seen on-line at the website of the Hermitage Museum. The link is

It seems certain that felt making was both utilitarian and a well developed art form in Central Asia 2500 years ago.

Best wishes for the New Year, Michael Wendorf

Posted by R. John Howe on 01-04-2004 10:32 AM:

Dear folks -

Here are some of the images from the Hali 113 article that Michael Wendorf cites above.

The first is a reconstruction of the outer burial chamber in kurgan 5, where the Pazyryk pile carpet was also found. On one wall is the felt with the image of the rider approaching the seated female figure.

Note that the design is repeated several times in this piece. Note also that there are flying swans at the top (but separate from this felt panel).

The image below is of one of these felt stuffed swans.

The text indicates that these swans are the oldest use of felt in "plastic" form known.

Another reconstruction drawing (below) provides the comprehensive image that I referred to above in which two fantastic creatures fight.

Last, there is a felt fragment that is rather plain but which does have nice lion heads at its top edge.

If you have issue 113 of Hali this article is well worth reading. Among other things there is considerable interpretation of the designs offered.

Just one more snippet from it about these felts:

"...Nothing closely comparable to the ancient Altaic felts, in either technique or decoration, has been found in other archeological excavations, nor among the artifacts associated with the region. There can be no doubt that the sophisticated techniques - the extreme fineness of the panels, the felt on felt applique work without contouring, the tracing of details with stem/chain stitching or fine cord stitched to the surface - testifies to a long felt-making tradition, developed by Altaic women over many centuries. But what is really unique is the graphic quality of the Pazyryk handings, which were conceived by their makers as a pictorial representation of complex multi-figured mythological scenes at the highest semantic level."

I would like to know more about what "without contouring" indicates. And about the phrase "highest semantic level."

Thanks to Michael for this useful reference as well.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 01-04-2004 11:12 AM:

Hi John,

Those are really the "frescoes" of nomads, thanks for the images.

What intrigues me is how they are cartoons-like. I mean, they look pretty modern. They show a graphic art that could be very well suited for illustrations of a fairy tales book.
And the 3D swan looks like a modern toy!

Pre-Columbian Walt Disney production?


Posted by Chuck Wagner on 01-04-2004 12:35 PM:

Deja Vu All Over Again

Hi All,

Long ago in a galaxy far away, Sophia and I wandered off in a
generally Scythian direction, and since the Pazyryk kurgan is Scythian,
I thought I'd point you at one of the Salon links that has some additional
images of Scythian artwork. Amazing stuff.

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by R. John Howe on 01-04-2004 03:11 PM:

Dear folks -

As Chuck notes, some of you will have noticed that some things in the Hermitage links that Chuck and Sofia have reprised here are items that also appear in Michael Wendorf's Hermitage link above in this thread.

Michael's link in fact permits 360 degree viewing of the various galleries in the Hermitage.


R. John Howe

Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 01-05-2004 09:21 PM:

more on Pazyryk

Dear Readers:

For those of you who may be following this thread and read Barkova's article in Hali 113, you may wish to review Hali 107 and her article which commerorates the 50th anniversary of Rudenko's excavation of the Pazyrk carpet in the summer of 1949. The article may be found in the Forum section beginning on page 64.

In 1994, scientists at Barkova's museum, the State Hermitage Museum, and the Institute of Archaeology in St. Petersburg corrolated the drochronogical and radiocarbon tests of six objects selected from Kurgan 5. The composite date was 440 - 360 BC. In 1998 a wool sample was also C-14 tested by ETH - Zurich. (This is the same institution that is currently being used by Jurg Rageth to test carpet fragments from international collections. The results of which were recently discussed at the ICOC last year.) The calibrated calendar age of that test (95% confidence limit) was 383 - 332 or 328 - 200 BC (74.6% confidence limit).

Relevant to this thread is the discussion of the Pazyryk carpet in which some comparisons to the felts also found in kurgan 5 is made. For example, the inner and outer borders of the Pazyryk carpet consist of winged griffens - "a motif characteristic of Iranian art of the first millennium BC." See page 65. Barkova makes the observation that "the griffens, as well as other animal figures on the carpet, are drawn in the so-called applique style. This is seen most clearly in the use of an open horse-shoe shape to represent the griffen's haunches..." To me, the applique style suggests the felt-on-felt vernacular seen in very felts found in kurgan 5 based on what we have already learned concerning how patterned felts are made. Barkova merely states that Rudenko and Gryaznov "attribute the development of the applique style to the culture of the early steppe nomads, and link it to the ancient local tradition of applique work. Others suggest that it arises from the synthesis of metal-work and textile imagery." Id.

It is also worth noting here that Rudenko assumed that the Pazyryk carpet itself was either Persian or Medean (I will not bother to remind readers of this forum who the descendents of the Medes are.) in manufacture, based largely on the griffen imagery. See page 67. Gryaznov (the kurgan 1 excavator of 1929) thought west central asia. Others have suggested southeast Anatolia.

Whatever the origin of the Pazyryk carpet, I think it needs to be viewed in conjunction with the felts and that both of Barkova's article (Hali 107 and Hali 113) are essential reading for anyone interested in this subject.

Finally, regarding John's questions - the term "without contouring" in this context means, I believe, just what Barkova says, that the coloration and drawing or form of the felts is done very naturalistically without obvious tracing or stitching of the different color felts but rather joined almost seamlessly. This suggests that the applique style of felt making was already highly evolved 2500 years ago. "Highest semantic level" refers, I believe, to the level of articulation of what is being expressed artistically. As Barkova also points out, every image used in early nomadic art bore a "definite symbolic sense." See Hali 113, page 78. The beauty of these ancient felts is surpassed only by the eloquence in which that symbolism is composed and depicted. Common rug terms such as "funky" or "archaic" have no place in such artifacts where every line and every motif has a meaning and a significance.

I hope everyone following this thread enjoys looking at these remarkable artifacts and thinking about these issues as much as I have.

Regards, michael wendorf

Posted by R. John Howe on 01-06-2004 08:13 PM:

The "Pazyryk" Rug Is Kurdish

Dear folks -

I have been gratified by Michael Wendorf's very useful posts in this salon, but have also been musing privately here about what might be "fueling his fire" in this instance.

Today, in one post I have a hint. Michael says in part "...(I will not bother to remind readers of this forum who the descendents of the Medes are.)...

A great deal of rug writing is interpretation and much of it is likely plain wrong, but I think I see a possible glimmer that might suggest the source of Michael's very useful energy in this salon.

Stated baldly, and despite what seems to me Jim Burns' explicit disavowal, it appears that Michael discerns a possibility that THE PAZYRYK RUG MAY BE KURDISH!

I am not schooled in this area at all, but have read lots of claims that the Pazyryk rug is likely Central Asian (read "Turkmen") and Schurmann, is on record as feeling that it is likely "Armenian" (Gantzhorn likely celebrated, you know all those "cruciform" devices in the field). But I admit to not having suspected that it might be Kurdish by way of the Medes.

It's possible, of course.

Thanks, Michael. For all of it.


R. John Howe

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 01-09-2004 09:28 AM:

Hi All,

Of all the origins put forth for the Pazyryk rug, my personal favorite is the
Persian one, but in the context of what Persia was in those days, i.e. extending
well beyond the borders of present day Iran.

The horse & rider borders are SO similar to the bas reliefs at
Persepolis that the design connection is difficult to ignore. The rosettes
in the center panels are alomst identical to photos I've seen in Assyrian tiles.

However, there are also similarities to some Greek designs that
are noted in E.J.W. Barbers "Prehistoric Textiles". They source
from a kurgan in Crimea (southern Ukraine) which represents
the westernmost extent of later Scythian "civilization" and is
adjacent to the point at which the Scythians stopped the advance
of the Persian armies under Darius.

All three cultures came together in this region; one has to wonder
if design elements didn't wander freely between them in traded

Here's the detail from the Pazyryk center panels (from Eiland & Eiland):

And here's the design from the Greek kurgan; not identical but an
interesting similarity:

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 01-09-2004 01:55 PM:


Dear Readers:

I am gratified that John Howe is reading my posts so closely. What is fueling my so-called fire? Let's call it the Pazyryk carpet, does anyone need any thing more?

For the record, I have never stated or argued that the Pazyryk carpet is Kurdish by way of the Medes. What I have argued is that the Kurdish weaving tradition seems to have roots in antiquity and those roots can be arguably traced back 6000 years. Thankfully, I am not the only one. In recent years a number of writers have begun to reach similiar conclusions. Reading Herrmann's 1992 essay "New Light on Ancient Designs" in Kircheim's Orient Stars, I was reminded of this again. In footnote 92, Herrmann goes so far as to state: "The history of the Kurds and their ancestors is the history of carpet weaving." Burns only adds to this theory and he himself attempts to link Kurdish weaving back to the Halaf culture.

But what about this Pazyrk carpet and its origins? As Barkova wrote in Hali 107: "There are differences of opinion as to the origin of the Pazyryk carpet, though most authors now accept that it is of "western" making." When Rudenko concluded that the carpet must be Persian or Medean work, based largely on the griffen imagery, he thought of Persia in the same way that Chuck Wagner explained it. He referred to what we might call the Achaemenian territory of the period. (Rudenko's work in english is limited: Frozen Tombs of Siberia: The Pazyryk Burials of Iron-age Horsemen, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1970.) Robert Pinner agrees with Rudenko.

In Hali 5/2, pages 113 - 14, Pinner wrote,

"While the date of the Pazyryk carpet has not been seriously questioned, opinions on its place of origin have differed from the Altai in the East to Asia Minor in the West. The most probable production area remains Rudenko's own choice of the Achaemenian territory, based on the stylistic relationship of the horses in the carpet's outer main border and the griffins or winged bulls in the cartouches of the minor border to Achaemenian ornaments and supported by a similar relationship for two kilim fragments found with the carpet." Rudenko's attribution to the Near East leaves some of the designs in question but is, of course, supported by the carpet's strong resemblence in the field design to the Nineveh threshold carpet (from Sennacherib's palace 7th century BC Nineveh excabvated and brought to the Bristish Museum by Sir Austin Layard in 1847.).

We now know with some greater confidence due to the tests that have been performed over the past 50 years that the Pazyryk carpet was woven about 380 B.C. By this time in history, the last great Medean ruler, Rshti-vega Azhi Dahak (Astyages of Herodotus, r. 584 - 549 BC), had lost his empire ( an empire which was consolidated in the 7th century BC) to his half-Persian grandson Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenian Persian Empire. See Izady p. 32 - 34. Cyrus himself was about to meet a Greek named Alexander. However, the influence of the Medes is critical in the period and seemingly beyond dispute. Moreover, we know that Cyaxares the Great led the Medes in their finally capturing Nineveh in 612 BC. When one considers both the Pazyrk and the 7th century Nineveh threshold carpet referenced by Pinner together or side by side, one can imagine a connection from Assyrian Nineveh to Medean culture to Achaemenian design all melding themselves together. Whether highland Karduchoi or Kurti were involved in this or influenced it is probably unanswerable except to state that they existed in the midst of it all and appear to be part of a long standing weaving tradition, a tradition that probably goes much further back in time.
At minimum, it seems certain that Kurds were well established by the time the Pazyryk was woven. In 401 BC, for example, Greek general and historian Xenophon described the inhabitants of Kurdistan as "Karduchoi" who were fully independent and paid no homage to the Persian kings.

Barkova summarizes her own conclusion in Hali 107, shared with Gryaznov, that the Pazyrk is west Central Asian, as well as several others such as Bohmer and Thompson who call it a local copy of an Iranian original and Zick-Nissen who places it in southeastern Anatolia, "in the far western provinces of the Achaemenid empire. Anyone who is interested can follow up on these thoughts. I do want to respond to one other opinion, John Howe mentions Ulrich Schurmann. Schurmann published a book called The Pazyryk in 1982. The book is based on a paper he read during the Symposium of the Armenian Rugs Society. He would place the rug as being woven in near a then city called Sakic on the headwaters of the Zab River and by the Urartu, which existed from the 9th - 6 th centuries BC even though he assumed the rug was woven at the end of the 5th century BC. He also draws parallels with certain bronzes excavated near Lake Van in 1971 and with the same threashold carpet from Nineveh referenced above. I believe that Mr. Schurmann's conclusions are misplaced and that the conclusions of Rudenko, Pinner and others generally relying on the same material objects and designs are more reliable.

I would be interested to hear more opinions or feedback to this thread.

Thanks, Michael Wendorf

Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 01-10-2004 09:42 AM:

Nineveh thresholds

Dear Readers:

One point of clarification. When I refer to the Nineveh threshold carpet, I refer to the alabaster threshold that was excavated by Layard. It is not a "carpet" but rather a part of the floor. It has been assumed that this threshold was a replica of a carpet and that a carpet was laid on the threshold in winter. Swiss art historian Gottfried Semper first made this connection in 1860 in his book Der Stil. The corresponding carpet was never found and presumably was lost over the ages.

The alabaster threshold from Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh is not the only relevant example - it is just the closest to the Pazyrk. Other examples were referenced by Pinner in Hali 5/2 as well. These include one from Assurbanipal's annex at Nineveh. Another was found at Sargon II's palace in Khorsabad built in the late 8th century BC - a date when the Assyrians and Medes seem to have been in direct competition.

Also, since I reference Xenophon, I would like to add that while he referenced what seem to be Kurds in 401 BC (as noted above), his only references to what can be interpreted as "sheared carpets" seem to be to Sard and seem to be described as Persian. There is no discussion of the material culture of these Karduchoi or if they were involved in weaving that I am aware of.

Thanks, Michael Wendorf

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 01-11-2004 05:19 AM:

Hi Michel,

The only feedback I can supply is this one:
I agree with the position that the Pazyryk carpet has likely a Near Eastern origin, although the ethnicity of the weavers is hard to pin down, in lack of more definite evidence.
Best regards,


Posted by Steve Price on 01-11-2004 02:34 PM:

Hi People

Here are the images to which Michael Wendorf referred a few posts back. The last one is the one from HALI.


Steve Price

Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 01-11-2004 05:08 PM:

alabaster thresholds from Nineveh

Dear Readers:

Yes, these are the images. The first image is of the so-called Assyrian threshold carpet from Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh built in the 7 th century BC. Made of alabaster, it was excavated by Leyard in 1847 and is now in the British Museum. The assumption is that a carpet was laid over this threshold in the winter only. The rest of the year this threshold replicated the design of the carpet. The resemblance to the Pazyryk is self-evident.

The second image if from Schurmann's book, The Pazyrk, and is apparently another threshold from Sennacherib's palace. Schurmann does not specifically identify it, but it too is in the British Museum.

The third and sixth images are thresholds from Assurbanipul's annex to the Nineveh palace. Its lotus border is similar to the others but the field pattern, a diagonal lattice with superimposed vertical lines is made up of what Pinner describes as a complex design of star-filled, overlapping octagons. The eye connects the outer outlines of the lozenges to form circles, a design technique found in later in Islamic art. Another earlier alabaster threshold with this design from Sargon II's palace in Khorsabad is in the Louvre.

The fourth and fifth images are from bronzes excavated near Lake Van. Schrumann relies on these bronzes to make a link with Urartan art and Armenians.

I think Filiberto is surely correct that even if a case for the Persian/Assyrian geographical origin of the Pazyryk seems persuasive, making a claim for the ethnic origin of the weavers is difficult and probably futile. The colors, which have not been discussed here, only add more confusion to this issue although the existence of cochineal in the Pazyryk could be useful to confirming its origin.

Thanks for the images. Michael Wendorf