Over 2,500 years ago, the prince of Altai passed away and was buried in a traditional Scythian kurgan, or burial mound, in the Pazyryk Valley of Siberia’s Ukok Plateau. He was buried with many of his most prized possessions; unfortunately, soon after his interment, grave robbers broke into the mound and stole most of the funerary treasure, leaving behind a large, hand-knotted carpet. When the thieves departed, they neglected to fill in the hole they had dug to enter the tomb, and the gravesite was left at the mercy of the elements. While this centuries-long exposure to the weather seems like it would destroy any remaining burial items, especially a delicate carpet, the cold temperatures of the region, combined with the dampness seeping in through the rocks above the mound, froze the carpet in a solid block of ice and thereby preserved it until its discovery in 1949 by Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko.
Radiocarbon testing has placed the Pazyryk carpet’s creation date in approximately the fifth century BCE, making it the oldest carpet in the world. While it was discovered in the Pazyryk Valley, it is unlikely that the nomadic Pazyryks were the weavers of this treasure; rather, the carpet was probably produced in either Persia or Armenia. The prevailing opinion is that it is of Persian origin, as many of the design motifs on the carpet mirror those found on friezes and in sculptures of the ancient Persian city of Persepolis.
The dimensions of the carpet are 6 feet by 6 feet 7 inches, and the predominant colors are red, green and blue. The design of the carpet is one of concentric rectangles, with the innermost rectangle composed of a quatrefoil and stylized lotus design, surrounded by a border of griffins and framed with 24 deer. The outermost border depicts 28 men on horseback, which is also the number of males who carried the throne of Xerxes to Persepolis and another indication of the carpet’s possible Persian origins.
Even today, the design and quality of the Pazyryk carpet is very appealing, and several manufacturers have created reproductions that are very similar to the original. This allows modern consumers to incorporate the history and cultural heritage of the Pazyryk carpet into their personal décor, making a powerful statement that is sure to be the focal point of any room.