A History of Carpets

Carpets do not survive as well as some other archeological evidence, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of carpet weaving.  We know that woven textiles date back many thousands of years.  And we know that the oldest carpet found (the famous Pazyryk rug) dates to the 5th-4th century BCE.  However, with its intricate design it’s unlikely that the Pazyryk carpet represents one of the earliest rugs: that is, surely carpet weaving dates many years, perhaps even many centuries older.  

persian rug patterns animals 5230And where did it all begin?  If you ask a rug dealer who invented carpets, he might weave for you an elaborate and captivating tale.  It’s tempting for us to do the same (after all, the mystery and lore of carpets is a large part of their charm).  But, the truth is that just as we can’t perfectly date the origins of carpet weaving, we don’t know exactly where carpets began either.  We can assert that carpets originated among nomadic pastoralists and their sheep.  Most scholars attribute a likely origin to Central Asia or the Iranian Plateau (a region from the Zagros Mountains to the Indus River and from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf).  Wherever it all began, carpet weaving eventually spread across a swath of land from Turkey and North Africa to Central and East Asia, where it was adopted by many cultural groups and it continues to this day.  

As carpet production spread, it was not simply a technical trade that moved from group to group.  Weaving was also an artistic expression that allowed peoples to create textiles displaying their ethnic identities and histories.  And the hand-knotted rugs woven today still employ the same basic tools and techniques – wool or silk yarn, a wooden or metal loom and the laborious process of producing a meaningfully patterned textile one knot at a time.