Posted by Jim Allen on 09-04-2007 06:12 PM:

Early Turkoman chuvals

Can one ever feel confident about an 18th century or "early" Turkoman dating attribution? This century isn't well served by C-14 dating so little science can be brought to bear on the subject. I have an image of a Turkoman chuval that I think is 18th century. How much information pro or con can be ascertained via its digital image? What tribe does it belong to? The knotting is asymmetric open right; 9 x 13 kpsi, two shoots brown weft, gray, brown, and white warps. The colors are very saturated and clear. The handle is extremely supple even floppy.

Here is a picture of another ostensibly very early Turkoman chuval with surprising iconographic juxtapositions. Interestingly its elem is festooned with Buddhist ‘dorje’ designs discussed in another thread.

Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-04-2007 09:37 PM:

Hi Jim,

The juvals are sensational. I think calling the devices in the lower panel of the second one "Bhuddist dorje designs" is a stretch, however.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Steve Price on 09-04-2007 10:10 PM:

Hi Jim

You wrote, Can one ever feel confident about an 18th century or "early" Turkoman dating attribution?

To the best of my knowledge, there isn't a single Turkmen piece that can be documented to have been woven in the 18th century. For that reason, the there is no database of 18th century rugs from which to develop criteria for such an attribution. I think the answer to your question must be, "No, such an attribution can't be much better than a guess."

Like Rich, I think calling the device a Buddhist dorje is unsupportable. With no special effort, I could rattle off a list of twenty alternatives, each just as plausible, and there would be no way to decide which, if any, is correct.

They both look like great pieces, though.


Steve Price

Posted by James Blanchard on 09-04-2007 10:16 PM:

Hi Jim,

I agree with Rich and Steve -- those are wonderful pieces. I especially like the second one. Through the skillful use of colour the weaver has created that sense of depth that many of the really good Turkmen weavings seem to display. Are those two camels in the elem?


P.S. Is there any particular reason why we shouldn't attribute the first Chuval to the Tekke?

Posted by Jim Allen on 09-05-2007 08:56 AM:

chuvals & dorje's

I call those double headed devices dorje's but I don't feel any need to be "right" about that attribution. There was a very strong Buddhist influence in Afghanistan in the middle ages so I don’t think calling those devices dorje’s is too out of line. I date Turkoman pieces later than 1700 AD based on their political ‘content’. One must know Turkoman history very well to make a reasonable stab at dating pieces using this method. One must also assume that tribal rank was reflected in things like access to good water, pasture, and dye stuffs. By tribal rank I mean who was on top of the tribal pyramid for any given region for any given time period. The Turkmen were fairly concentrated at Khiva in the 18th century and their various fortunes oscillated from good to bad depending on some major battles. The Yomud defeated the Salor, Tekke, and Uzbeks in 1767 or so we are told in the histories. This defeat had real consequences and the real question here is how did this defeat reflect itself in Tekke weaving and iconography. I identify the first chuval as Tekke and the second one as primarily Chodor based on the above propositions. I say primarily Chodor because of the Yomud character it possesses. The same can be said for the Tekke chuval. It has Yomud proportions and the elem is rather Yomud leaning I think. One piece of evidence for this argument is the Tekke torbas with archaic looking gulls and upside down wonky Yomud box and flower borders. Why would such masterful weavers make such mistakes? Perhaps the answer is that they were copying this border design from their Yomud masters. Jim Allen

Posted by Steve Price on 09-05-2007 09:21 AM:

Hi Jim

Many of our readers are new to the game, and saying that some symbol has a meaning without a pretty good basis of evidence can mislead. Calling the little haystacks Buddhist dorje symbols is, as you acknowledge, not supported by much beyond the existence of a Buddhist influence in the region. That makes it plausible, but no more than that. The alternatives that I can think of with no effort, all every bit as plausible, make a pretty large list.

The green in the second piece is striking and unusual in Turkmen weavings. I wonder whether that might be an attribution indicator for a particular Yomud sub-group whose name is refusing to enter my consciousness right now (I'm having a senior moment).


Steve Price

Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-05-2007 10:49 AM:

Hi Jim,

Can you describe a little structure for the second juval? Are photos of the back feasible fot the two of them?

I don't get much satisfaction myself out of speculating on what simple little decorative devices incorporated into a weaving might represent, when they could be naything, or not much of anything. I agree with Steve that a dozen things come quickly to mind regarding this particular item. In fact, the "dorje" isn't very high on the list if they all look like the image you posted. Even so, assuming it might represent that Buddhist artefact, would you expect such a symbol to be depicted repetitively in the lower panel in this manner?

I think the first thing that has to be taken into account when assessing the use of simple decorative design elements like the combs we discussed in the other thread is they are relatively easily produced in this medium. I've seen enough of pile weaving in process to realize that experienced weavers operating without cartoons or similar aids have a repertoire of designs they can produce or modify as they choose. I think that principle has a lot to do with the frequent appearance of comb-like devices in the weaving.

Posted by Marty Grove on 09-05-2007 11:19 AM:


G'day Jim and all,

Not having a lot of indepth knowledge about all the different classes of rug precludes me often from making much of a sensible comment in many cases discussed on these pages, however the second bag face shown by Jim jogs my memory.

I am quite convinced I have seen this rug displayed elsewhere, and that it quite took my fancy; I found it within a rather obscure accumulation of pieces, and again, some time ago, this piece surfaced again, this time on Turkotek, although I cant remember quite where it was shown. Perhaps Jim was the orginator of the piece then also.

When I first came across it I was struck at the shape of the guls. They have something very tophat about them that I thought at the time was very old looking - and also that there was quite a bit of green in the piece also took my fancy, thinking that green does not seem to be a much used colour in that volume within the Turkmen genre.

Regardless, to me there is something very special about this little weaving. As for the 'hourglass' iconography in the elem, perhaps it is indeed representing 'time', the weaver of the piece perhaps once having seen an hourglass, possible out in the boondocks where mechanical timepieces would be almost non existent, and decided to replicate its shape and purpose 'magically' which an hourglass perhaps appeared to be, for her.

Sorry for being so very speculative, but its permitted, especially as we are discussing old weavings. And as for considering an age to the first one shown - Im quite convinced that there are perhaps more very old rugs around than we give credit to; we ourselves love and revere our weaving, whether new or old and if we have an especially well loved piece we tend to take extra care of it.

Therefore, as has been discussed on Turkotek often before, with the care of these things taken (for instance, in Gene's case, literally, magnificent rugs forgotten for two or three decades before being brought into the light of day again, for our pleasure to see) is it so hard to imagine that something can survive for one, two or even three hundred years in relatively good condition. Think of all the old porcelain and potteries around, things easily broken if dropped, yet these pieces are not rare in our time.

Carpetry, by virtue of the material used, must deteriorate more quickly obviously, than clay made objects, but nevertheless, rugs and carpets are a really toughly woven fabric, not easily rent - if cared for by a number of owners, then sure to survive a very long time.

Precise dating for any? Extremely difficult to prove convincingly...


Posted by Jim Allen on 09-05-2007 12:02 PM:

Comb versus Dorjii

I believe the double ended comb design represents the Buddhist dorjii when used in high visibility places. In the Tekke main carpets this device acted like a spirit stopper and all classical Turkmen weavings seem to have them. Spirit stoppers were pattern breaks intended to keep evil spirits outside the yurt. Dorjii’s are to be shaken in the hand when in use. “The Vajra (Dorji) is the symbol of the thunderbolt--the indestructible path of the Vajrayana Buddhism. The Vajra represents the male principle; it is always held in the right hand; the Vajra destroys ignorance yet itself is indestructible.” Now imagine you are standing on a plane and magically a Turkoman mounted on horseback flanked by the second bagface referenced above crosses in front of you. As the chuval moves from side to side through time it oscillates in the vertical direction in synchrony with the gait of the horse. The dorjii would seem to be shaking as it passed you on the flank of that magical horse. This would be totally correct imagery for the proper use of a dorjii. I doubt seriously that the male looking at the image of a shaking dorjii would be able to resist the temptation to associate that image with ‘her’ hands shaking him! This is the kind of thing I would expect to see on an appeal for marriage; as in this Turkoman dowry chuval. I see the shaking dorjii in the elem of the second chuval as an advertisement for marriage and intimacy. Of course the design also looks like a double sided comb and I am sure in some usages that is what was being represented. I can see the comb as a complex symbol promising both nice weavings, which are of course valuable, and nice hair along with personal beauty. The comb is a powerful image and probably accounts for a good percentage of objects referenced by this design. I suspect the correct interpretation of the double comb design was context dependant. In other words the design might have indicated a comb when used one way or a dorji when used another way. Jim Allen

Posted by Steve Price on 09-05-2007 12:30 PM:

Hi Jim

Is there any documentation of Turkmen practicing Buddhism? If so, please provide references. If not, what evidence is there for their use of Buddhist symbolism in their textiles? If Buddhist symbolism was extensive in Turkmen weavings, the "dorjii" would be a logical motif for inclusion. If not, their adoption of this particular motif and associating it with marriage seems, well, pretty unlikely.

It looks as much like a haystack, a chef's whisk, a reindeer, a spider, or the Russian letter pronounced "zh" as it does like a dorjii or an hourglass, and it would be easy to make arguments for any of those that are at least as strong as those for it being a dorjii.

Looks to me like a game where any number can play. Nobody wins, nobody loses, and it can go on forever.

Steve Price

Posted by Marty Grove on 09-05-2007 12:47 PM:

G'day Steve,

You are entirely right - the dissection of meaning within rugs is endless, and indeed is something which we all are so attached to, and does go on and on, although sometimes gems of proven knowledge do appear, and we wonder it wasnt noticed before.

Its part of the joys of rugdom, and we all participate willingly.


Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-05-2007 01:06 PM:

Hi Jim,

You're way ahead of me with that saddlebag bouncing up and down, dorji-fashion, on that horse. I congratulate you for your imagination.

Regarding the representational qualities of the double comb device, especially the examples with the connector between the combs (not in your juval), I was put in mind of the birthday party favors in vogue in my youth; the ones wrapped in crepe paper, and when you pulled the little string, they went off. I would think the Turkomans would have found them a gas, especially the little explosive effect. They were probably available at the bazaar in Khiva.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Steve Price on 09-05-2007 01:25 PM:

Hi Marty

Speculation in the absence of evidence isn't dissection of meanings. If it leads to knowledge, it's by happenstance.

Many good ideas begin as speculations, but until they progress beyond that stage it isn't useful to make them public. The person who dreams up a highly imaginative speculation has an obligation to pursue it to the point where it has some moderately persuasive evidence behind it or to quietly abandon it if none can be found.

Naming the images that I perceive when I see smoke rings doesn't reveal the physical principles that explain the patterns of dissipation of smoke from a small source, and there's no reason why anyone should care what my images are. Those images might generate enough interest on my part to motivate me to rigorously look at how that process works. If I discovered anything new, that discovery would be interesting to others. The images that led me to look into the matter might interest others as well at that point, but for different reasons. Newton's Law of Gravity is interesting and important. The fact that he was led to it by noticing that apples always fall down rather than up has historical interest. But if that hadn't led him to investigations that culminated in his Law, nobody would or should care whether he paid any attention to falling apples.


Steve Price

Added Note: I doubt that juvals were used as saddlebags.

Posted by R. John Howe on 09-05-2007 01:56 PM:

Green in Turkman Pieces

Dear folks -

Some are noting and commenting on the green in the second chuval in the post that initiates this thread.

Green is fairly infrequent in Turkmen weaving. My impression is that it occurs most often in Yomut group and "Ersari" pieces.

But it can occur in Tekke pieces as well.

The image below is a detail of a Tekke main carpet fragment I own and had converted into a pillow.

There is green in some of the major guls but at least some of the minor ones are predominantly in green.

I don't know if green itself signals a possible subgroup (we actually don't see much talk about Tekke subgroups) but the ground colors on this piece (there are two "reds") seem not those we usually see in Tekke pieces.



R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-05-2007 01:59 PM:

Wonderful fragment, John. Looks old to me.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Steve Price on 09-05-2007 02:06 PM:

Hi John

George O'Bannon believed that a strong green in a Tekke piece was a sign of a relatively early weaving (say, pre-1850). If he was right (and my impression of George was that he was a pretty critical thinker), the Tekke subgoup associated with it would be related to date rather than (or maybe in addition to) place.

Steve Price

Posted by James Blanchard on 09-05-2007 02:06 PM:

Hi John,

There is green, and then there is green. I think a deep, teal green is different than the lively green in Jim's second chuval. Yours looks to have a deep blue green.


Posted by R. John Howe on 09-05-2007 04:04 PM:

James -

I wouldn't claim "lively" at all, but I just took the Tekke piece to good sunlight and the green in it does not have a blue cast there. (It does seem to be a different and darker green than that in Jim's piece.)

I think there is a blue cast in the direct scan of my fragment for some reason.

I make no claims about the significance of this green, only that I had not seen such an extensive use in Tekke weaving previously.


R. John Howe

Posted by James Blanchard on 09-05-2007 05:09 PM:

Hi John,

I guess that is a problem with digital discussions about dyes; everyone sees something a bit different in front of them, and none are exactly like the real thing. I wasn't disputing the "green-ness" of your green, but making the obvious point about how different the two greens appear (on your piece and Jim's).

In various rugs that I own, I have noticed three sorts of greens: "forest" green (which is a deep green without obvious blue or yellow tinting), blue-green and yellow-green. As far as my understanding goes, these were all likely created through dying with indigo and yellow dyes. The blue-greens might have resulted from a relative fading of the yellow, whereas the yellow-green could be due to a loss of the indigo. My question has been whether the more "stable" greens were made using a different dying process, or just with better technique and dyestuffs.


Posted by Jack Williams on 09-05-2007 05:35 PM:

testing for age...there may be a way


The article below is one of my favorites for understanding the aging and deterioration process for wool textiles. The author states that there is a method of determining the chronologic age of a textile, assuming certain parameters have been maintained.

The article is fairly old and is a part of a series that is dedicated to preservation of museum items. I doubt the system has been used to actually determine age and I don’t think the article has been widely disseminated in the rug hobby, except by moi on this board.

It might be very useful to contact the author and inquire about testing your items. It may be that they have been subjected to some conditions at some point that would preclude determining their chronologic age. could possibly get a date that would be an “ least...” date.

Regards, Jack Williams

PS: "Green" color can unintentiaonally occur as a result of certain mordants combined with certain dyes...though I don't think that happened here. More later.

JAIC 1986, Volume 25, Number 1, Article 4 (pp. 39 to 48)


Randall R. Bresee

“...Another interesting aspect of physical ageing is that it proceeds predictably and measurably in samples during ageing times as short as a few minutes or as long as a few million years.1 In one study, microscopic measurements of tensile creep (elongation under a constant load) were investigated as a means of determining the physical age of short lengths of single fibers.6 In favorable circumstances, a textile's physical age may be approximately equated to its chronological age (i.e. Tg has not been exceeded since the fiber was formed), so the technique described may be used to provide an estimate of the chronological age of textiles of unknown origin....”

Posted by Steve Price on 09-05-2007 06:22 PM:

Hi Jack

It's a fascinating article. Note this important excerpt:

One of the most interesting aspects of physical ageing is that it can be “erased” simply by heating a material to a temperature that exceeds its Tg. ... the Tg's of most natural fibers are depressed to a temperature around room temperature by the absorption of water during wetting. (emphasis added)

To make a long story short, what it says is that the age of a wool or cotton textile obtained from their method dates it to the last time it was wet. If you washed it or got it wet last week, their method will show it to be one week old if the wetting happened at or above room temeprature. That's a pretty serious limitation for using it on rugs.


Steve Price

Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-05-2007 06:39 PM:

It ain't easy being green...

Hi James and all,

I agree with the conventional wisdom about the green being largely dependent for quality and fate on the yellow. It is an interesting question whether there might have been some greens that did not occur by overdying the indigo lot with the yellow dye of choice. Whatever is the case in that respect, it is noteworthy that Jim's second image bag, which we all seem to agree has an excellent green, doesn't appear to have a dedicated yellow at all; or if it does, it is very subtle, not something that could generate that green.

Posted by Steve Price on 09-05-2007 07:55 PM:

Hi Jim and all

My senior moment finally resolved - took longer than usual. The word I was looking for was Igdyr, as a Yomud subgroup that used lots of a green like the one in Jim's second juval. So, I went to Moshkova's book, opened it to the Igdyr section, and there's that juval, with an Igdyr attribution and some text about the use of lots of that green being an Igdyr characteristic.

I have one trapping or torba that fits Moshkova's criteria, too, which Jim will probably recognize. Here it is, in full, but with color reproduction that's pretty bad.

Here's a direct scan, the colors of which are very true to what I see when looking at the piece live.

Moshkova also shows a torba with a similar palette, attributed to the Igdyr, with suspended pompoms that are attached through yarn that is woven into the piece rather than sewn on (this, she writes, is a difference between Igdyr and most Yomud torbas). If you look at the bottom edge of the photo of mine, you can probably see stubs of yarn that was once the attachments of pompoms.

Moshkova claims to have gotten the juval from a Turkmen who told her that it was made by Igdyrs. More likely than not, it was.


Steve Price

Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-05-2007 08:09 PM:

What a beauty, Steve. What is the handle like?

Posted by Steve Price on 09-05-2007 08:23 PM:

Hi Rich

It's kind of sandpaperish, more like Chodor than Yomud in tactile terms.

Notice, by the way, how easy it would be to morph the devices between the "plus signs" in the borders into the haystacks about which there has been so much speculation. This could open, maybe, a few hundred more speculative possibilities.


Steve Price

Posted by Jack Williams on 09-05-2007 10:09 PM:

woolly mamouth or woolly boolly -wet and wild,


that is what the article theorizes. What actually happens in casual wetting may be a different story...which is why I am so anxious to try the method.

I wish we had a series of rugs of known age back to the 18th C. to test the method. It MIGHT prove to be pretty useful...especially if a change in the Tg requires sustained wetting rather than casual. That question could be answered by the author as well....truth is the chemistry of such a change by simply wetting the fiber doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

In any case, I am prettty sure I have a couple of old rugs from Afganistan or whereever that may never have seen water....they seem to have the original dirt in them. One is that baluch-tekke that was subject of an archived line...probably 90-110 years old.

Regards, Jack

Posted by Steve Price on 09-06-2007 06:03 AM:

Hi Jack

Having a significant number of rugs with documented dates earlier than the 20th century would go a long way toward making it possible to develop reliable date attribution criteria. In fact, I don't think it is likely to be possible to do so without such a database. This has been my major criticism of date attributions based on expert opinion.

My reading of the article is that the paragraph I quoted isn't hypothetical, but is based on actual data. None of the surrounding text looks like conjecture. But let's suppose that it is. What can anyone do about it? You say you have a rug or two that are around 100 years old and that you think have never seen water because the dirt in them looks original? Are you serious? How do you tell 100 year old dirt from 10 year old dirt? How can you convince us idiots* that your criteria for doing so is reliable?


Steve Price

*There's a tale about Galileo. It seems that he was supposed to visit his mother, but canceled out because he had to do the experiment with dropping different sized objects from the leaning tower. He told her that he already knew how it would come out. "If you know how it will come out, why do you have to do it?", his mother asked. Galileo's reply: "To convince the idiots."

Posted by Jack Williams on 09-06-2007 09:39 AM:

Camel dung

the existence of camel dung could be a good indicator.


Posted by Steve Price on 09-06-2007 09:54 AM:

Hi Jack

I haven't a clue to how to recognize camel dung, although I could probably figure it out if there were camels in the area. How do you identify it decades after the camel has left the scene?


Steve Price

Posted by Jim Allen on 09-06-2007 11:16 AM:

Conifer Green

James wrote, “In various rugs that I own, I have noticed three sorts of greens: "forest" green (which is a deep green without obvious blue or yellow tinting)…..

In my experience a deep ‘conifer’ green is indicative of classical period Tekke and Salor chuvals and torbas. The number of my samples is very small, exactly two, but the association is important. The Salor chuval published as Plate 2 in Tent Band-Tent Bag, now in the Munckasi collection, has a wonderful deep clear green that is identical front and back. This was one of the samples Dr. Jull Carbon-14 tested and his impression of the results was that it was para-1700 AD but probably later. I had estimated the age of the piece to the first half of the 18th century. The Tekke torba published as Plate 46 in Vanishing Jewels has the same green as the Salor chuval used sparingly.

The note to plate 46 reads in part,”This torba is among the oldest and most compelling of its type.” James, I wonder what you have hidden under your bed? Jim Allen

Posted by Jim Allen on 09-06-2007 12:43 PM:


I believe that a statistician would say that some of the very first “dirt” any weaving was ever exposed to still exists in minute concentrations. The detection and correlation of such data seems like something from Star Trek but it isn’t really all that farfetched today! What might be knowable tomorrow might not even be dreamed of today: but I doubt it. I believe that dreams and reality are inextricably intertwined.

I suspect the real question you are raising here is whether the second chuval is Igdyr and likely mid 19th century versus some exotic late 18th century piece as I suggest? Frankly the tangible evidence so far submitted points your way in my opinion.

I have a mafrash to go with your Igdyr torba. It is a high quality weaving made of the finest materials and uses a lot of very good green in its composition. Do you see anything to suggest an Igdyr attribution in it? I have a similar age Yomud mafrash with the same general design with quite different green colors. I am posting images of them both below. Which one is ostensibly older? Which one is more aesthetically pleasing? One thing I am beginning to suspect is that Igdyr work is under recognized and under appreciated. What do you think?

Jim Allen

Posted by Steve Price on 09-06-2007 01:20 PM:

Hi Jim

My skepticism about the identification of very old dirt (or camel dung) isn't because I doubt that it exists - I'm sure it exists even if in minute amount. The problem is being able to identify it. Will we eventually have technology that makes it possible to do so? Probably. Do we have it now? If so, I don't know about it, but that doesn't mean much. Jack believes that he can do it, but hasn't yet given details about how. He may be able to rid me of my skepticism, but until somebody does, I remain skeptical.

I agree with you that nearly all new knowledge begins with dreams or imagination, but not all dreams or imagination lead to new knowledge. In fact, most ideas that seem so exciting at first turn out to be wrong. That's what makes research so frustrating.

Igdyr attributions are as dicey to me as most other attributions are. I think the first torba in your last post would have been attributed to Igdyr by Moshkova, and I think it belongs to the same group as my torba and those things that Moshkova calls Igdyr. My basis for this is the green, which is pretty unusual in mainstream Yomud weaving (or mainstream Chodor weaving; Moshkova is a bit ambiguous about which group to call the parent of the Igdyr).

The fringes on both of yours are in surprisingly good shape, and are of a type that I associate with later Yomud stuff (which proves nothing, of course, it's just an observation). Both look very good to me, although I think I prefer the second one, probably because of the borders.


Steve Price

Posted by James Blanchard on 09-06-2007 06:50 PM:

Hi all,

First, let me say that I really like both of those mafrashes that Jim showed. Personally, I like the second better than the first. I think the field drawing and dimensions look much better. But that green in the first one is somewhat irresistible....

Jim, you mention the "conifer" green being associated with early Tekke and Salor pieces. That's an interesting observation. I would add some "Ersari/Beshir" rugs of various ages to the group that used that green, and not just in early weavings. It is interesting that it doesn't seem to appear much in later weavings of other Turkmen weavings.

Under my bed.... lots of old dirt and some camel dung, probably.

One observation on dating techniques... it sounds like the problem is that various processes could result in mis-dating the rug to a more recent time frame. If that's the case, then at least the potential error is conservative. It would be very useful if there were a technique that could accurately estimate the age of the oldest component or wool or cotton or dirt or dung on a carpet, but I gather we are still awaiting such a technology.


Posted by Patrick Weiler on 09-06-2007 08:55 PM:

Green with Envy

I love those really old Turkmen pieces. I have always seen the green as a bonus in older pieces. Here is my contribution to the thread, although not a chuval and certainly not Igdyr:

It was cut and shut, so there is a bit missing in the lower half, and it is missing a bit from both ends. I suspect it was taken to a rug repair place many years ago and the "fix" was to remove a few rows of knots from the ends, leaving a respectable fringe. Elena Tsareva had a chance to look at this piece and she liked it, although she did not offer a guess to its age.
The green as seen from the back is flecked with yellow and has not faded as the greens on my MAD torba have which leaves a greenish-blue on the front. I do not know if this would be called "conifer green".
This piece has those half-dorjie devices flanking the "water channel" in the center of the field. If, in fact, this design represents a garden then those devices may represent "bushes" growing along the verge of the waterway, flanking the grape vines. If you drink enough wine, the vines begin to flutter.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-07-2007 02:32 AM:

Hi Steve,

My skepticism about the identification of very old dirt (or camel dung) isn't because I doubt that it exists - I'm sure it exists even if in minute amount. The problem is being able to identify it.
No, this is not the point.
The point is: why should camel dung be easier to date than the rug itself?
Or, to put it in another way: has camel dung specific qualities that make it easy to date?
It sounds a rather crappy idea to me, sorry for the untasteful pun



Posted by martin andersen on 09-07-2007 02:45 AM:

Wasn't dirt used to hold the warp and weft in position in some primitive weavings ? Dirt like that I suppose would have another structure than casual camel drops :-) perhaps thats what Jack refers to as original dirt ?

regards Martin

Posted by Steve Price on 09-07-2007 05:51 AM:

Hi Filiberto

I think Jack's point was that if there was camel dung in a rug, it is unlikely that it had been washed after entering western hands. Since one problem with dating the rug by tensile creep is that it only dates it to its last bath, camel dung might be taken as an indicator that it hadn't been washed. I don't think he intended it to mean that the camel dung would be dated and that this would provide the date for the rug.

Hi Martin

I'm not aware that dirt or camel dung was used as a binder in central Asian weaving, and we aren't dealing with prehistoric textiles - somebody would have mentioned it if it was being done in the 19th century.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-07-2007 06:38 AM:

Hi Steve,

If that is Jack’s point - I repeat, IF - I still don’t get it.
Jack said he has a couple of rugs that could have been unwashed, with original dirt.

First, supposing he is right, that could mean that not all rugs have been washed before getting in western hands.

Second: let’s say a 100 years old rug was washed when it was 50, and another is 50 years old and never washed: both should show the same 50 years-old dirt and dung, no? And they should show the same age under the method indicated in the JAIC article.



Posted by Martin Andersen on 09-07-2007 06:48 AM:

Hi Steve
I have probably mixed-up dirt and clay. :-)
Elena Tzareva writes in "Rugs And Carpets From Central Asia p.9 : "The beams were greased with clay to hold the warp threads in a definite order"
regards Martin

Posted by Steve Price on 09-07-2007 06:56 AM:

Hi Filiberto

Yup, one of the method's weaknesses is that it dates wool to the most recent time that it was soaked. The good news is that this won't lead to an overstatement of the age.

Hi Martin

I hadn't noticed that. But using clay on the ends of the loom where the warps were attached wouldn't leave clay within the body of the rug - only on the ends. And they get cut off when the rug comes off the loom.


Steve Price

Posted by Jim Allen on 09-07-2007 10:28 AM:

The importance of Wool

Here is a cut and paste link to an important ORR article on wool. In the present context this article is well worth reviewing.
Jim Allen

Posted by Steve Price on 09-07-2007 10:47 AM:

Hi Jim

That's a terrific article, and hit some resonant chords in me. Almost everything written on the subject (what's missing from new rugs that makes antiques better?) emphasizes colors and dyes. Bulbach's take - that it is wool quality - is unusual.

The reason it hits home with me is that my wife and I came to the conclusion long ago that our collecting interests were largely driven by tactile qualities. We own some sculpture, a lot of it African and some modern American, and much of the appeal is the surface feel and flow. Likewise for rugs. We don't collect things that can't be touched, like paintings. We've thought of ourselves as oddball, and come to terms with it. Suddenly, we're validated.


Steve Price

Posted by doug klingensmith on 09-07-2007 01:11 PM:

Hello all

I am a materials research technician, and work in a lab at UC Santa Barbara where we do the type of testing that Bresee describes in his nicely written article, and have read and written lots of stuff on this sort of thing. I personally work on metals and ceramics but have many colleagues who focus on polymers – single fiber creep, tensile and fast rupture testing are common techniques. I will be discussing this article with them when I go back to work next week.
One important thing to note – it is only the physical aging being erased (more common term these days is “recovered”) by exposure to temperatures above Tg. Physical aging is the slow embrittlement of polymers as molecules migrate and complex chains break down over time. The other types of degradation he lists- thermal degradation, chemical attack (e.g. dye reactions), mechanical stress and photochemical degradation are not recovered by exposure to Tg.
It seems intuitive that these other types are more important players when looking at the mechanical properties of old wool weavings. Lots of other test techniques that have become available over recent years seem to suggest themselves here, but I wont speculate until I talk to people with experience in polymers.
Steve notes the need for a control group of fibers of known age that have been minimally bothered over time. Perhaps we could take apart one of those Transylvanian church rugs…
I will report any interesting ideas that come up. Knowing my nerdy colleagues, we will probably break and examine some wool.

Regards, d.k.

Posted by Steve Price on 09-07-2007 01:30 PM:

Hi Doug

That would be terrific. Samples of yarn of known age wouldn't have to come from rugs. For example, there are lots of uniforms from the War of Northern Aggression that have been around for about 150 years, in private hands. Museums have plenty of textiles of various documented ages: garments, flags, sails, extraneous canvas from paintings, etc. come to mind easily. Some museums might welcome being involved in a project that could result in reliable methods for dating rugs.


Steve Price

Posted by Jack Williams on 09-07-2007 04:35 PM:

wool age, wool green, wool'nd you know it....

Doug, Thanks for the practical and scientific addition to this conversation. As an Engineer, I like your approach and am quite excited about the potential. I had found Dr. Bresee’s University of Tennessee internet address and was preparing an email with some questions about his article(s).

Any method that would shed light on the ages certain rugs would create quite a sensation uproar would perhaps be a better word. Such a method, if shown to be reliable, might have academic and possibly commercial ramifications.

This is our second round over Dr. Bresee’s illuminating technical article. There are probably quite a few carpets available of known age, complete with dates. I have one myself that has a date of 1895 (Western calendar) woven in the fabric. However, the reason dating by examination of the wool (or other) natural fibers is attractive is because dyes and treatment of the materials varies so greatly. I look forward to your further thoughts.

Steve et. al. About Dr. Bresee, the author of the article in question, perhaps I should point out the following taken from a profile on the web: “Many have seen Dr. Bresee on the History Channel describing his investigation the fabric believed to be Christ’s burial shroud (Shroud of Turin). He has also analyzed a fabric believed to be from the coat Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated.

Also, Doug's research and publication resume as gleened from the web, is quite sterling. We ain't dealin' with the village people here... I am quite euphoric about the additional academic fire power...I wish I could help.

RE: Green dyesGreen can also be produced directly from gold-yellow natural dyes by an after-bath of iron...with the wrong ph. Here is a picture of what may be an example. The gold-yellow was possibly given an after-bath in an iron kettle. Then, possibly some animal/person did a “number 1” on the still wet yarn as it was drying....and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-08-2007 02:54 AM:

Steve just a note,

Museums have plenty of textiles of various documented ages: garments, flags, sails, extraneous canvas from paintings
What interest us, concerning rugs, are wool and cotton.
As far as I know, wool was never used in canvas for paintings, it wasn’t suitable for that. Instead, linen and hemp were traditionally employed for their qualities of robustness and stability. Cotton, albeit inferior to the other two, was also utilized, starting from the 19th century with the advent of industrial looms.
Sometimes we find also canvases made with jute and, more rarely in the west, silk.

Jack: I see you conveniently forgot the camel dung matter.
First, you let us speculate about it and then you leave us in the dark. I officially protest: it isn’t right!.


Posted by Steve Price on 09-08-2007 06:43 AM:

Hi Filiberto

You're right, canvas was a bad choice for inclusion. Wool and silk would be best, especially if dating Turkmen work is part of the goal.

I thought I cleared up the confusion about Jack's mention of camel dung - that finding it in a rug would be evidence that it hadn't been washed by a western dealer or collector. It would work for anything I own. Most of it has been washed in the past 25 years or so, and I never let my camels (or my guest's camels) set foot on them.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-08-2007 07:57 AM:

Hi Steve,

You said : thought I cleared up the confusion about Jack's mention of camel dung

Forgive me, but unless you became Jack’s spokesman lately, that’s only your interpretation.

I’d prefer to hear it from Jack… People should be accountable about their own statements, don’t you think?


Posted by Steve Price on 09-08-2007 08:49 AM:

Hi Filiberto

No, I'm not Jack's spokesperson, but I suspect that once the issue was clarified he felt no need to do so again. Just to refresh everyone's memory, the conversation went something like this:

1. He pointed out that the presence of old dirt would be evidence that a rug hadn't been washed in a very long while, and this would make it more likely that tensile creep would be useful in dating it.

2. I asked, How do you tell 100 year old dirt from 10 year old dirt?

3. He replied (the next message in that sequence, a few hours after mine), the existence of camel dung could be a good indicator.

Although I guess it's possible to interpret that as a freestanding message rather than as a reply to the one above it, it seems pretty unlikely to me and I think Jack would have corrected me if I misunderstood it. In any case, there are obviously some people who think it may not be an explanation of how to recognize very old dirt in a rug but an assertion that dating camel dung embedded in a rug is a route to age attribution. Jack, kindly clarify what you meant.


Steve Price

Posted by Jack Williams on 09-08-2007 11:06 AM:

I'd smell a mile for a camel..or..camel from a mile...or...

Steve you are right and Filiberto is persistant. A rug that has an odd gummy substance in it and smells of camel so strongly that it is quarantined from the rest of the pile has probably not been washed least that is my deduction.

I hadn't thought about analysizing the substance, or dirt, itself. But, that is an idea also.

Al ben Djak

Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-08-2007 11:25 AM:

Uuuuhhh...hey gang,

One sign of advancing age is my decreasing ability to follow some of these discussions effectively. Let's see, we're brainstorming about potential methods of dating textiles, specifically, rugs. We went over theories of tensile creep, then we mentioned the disadvantage of that method due to the unsatisfactory effects of the textile having got wet, then we went to using the presence of camel dung as an indicator of the textiles historical wet/dry career. Have I got it? Are we having fun yet?

To start with, in spite of popular belief, I have found it to be true that very few rugs actually contain camel dung at any time. Furthermore, I recall that a few people nearly got lynched when we were trying to figure out whether it was possible to determine whether there was camel wool in a rug. When you add to the pile the fact that over one or two or three hundred years, it is possible for a rug to get wet with or without camel dung in the equation, I think it becomes obvious that this line of inquiry is a non-starter.

Rich Larkin

Posted by doug klingensmith on 09-08-2007 12:32 PM:

testing wool

Hello all- one more comment before I leave for a week in the mountains away from all electronic media. (my goal this time will be to tie an effective trout fly that incorporates hair from my dog).
In all empirical research, particularly in cases like the one we are batting around, there are variables we probably dont even know about yet. Bresee mentions five basic mechanisms off the top. To begin understanding what really goes on it is important to have as directly representative control group as possible.
Much has been said about the difference in wools from various regions. Comparing an old Caucasian fiber to a strand from a worsted & dyed European one of known age wont mean much.
There are many ways to look for changes in material. First step is to choose the test method(s) that tell you the most. This step requires as close to single variable differences in your test & control groups as possible. Intuitively it would seem best to start by comparing new hand spun native wool to undyed warp strands (to eliminate photo-degradation) from age verified pieces from the same region, using hopefully the same local strain of sheep. The Dobag people might be able to suggest something here.
The devil is always in the details, and I am eager to show this problem to people with polymer experience.
We will leave it to Steve to generate the funding for the project once we have the proposal written. Something like $500K over four years sounds about right....
cheers d.k.

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-08-2007 12:48 PM:

That's a non-starter too!

Thanks anyway,


Posted by Steve Price on 09-08-2007 02:13 PM:

Hi Doug

If somebody can demonstrate feasibility, I'd be surprised if we couldn't get some academic or museum involvement in such a project. There are a number of potential sources of funding at that point. Setting out the duration of the project or the actual amount it will take to reach the objectives will come later.

Enjoy your vacation.

Hi Filiberto

Amounts in the ballpark of $100k per year would be reasonable to some federal agencies and foundations in the US, Europe and Asia if the need can be justified and the probability of success and significance of the project are high.

Steve Price

Posted by Jim Allen on 09-08-2007 03:31 PM:

Turkoman Data

One thing Turkoman collectors should take notice of is the excellent data garnered by the microscopy of wool used in Navajo textiles. This data is organized into dating generalizations based on the known introduction dates of various breeds of sheep and the microscopic peculiarities of their fibers. Navajo weavers first used Churro wool during the classic period of Navajo weaving (1700-1863). In 1870 the U. S. Government supplied the Navajo with native Mexican sheep (a cross between native Churro and Kentucky Merino brought to the Southwest over the Santa Fe Trail.) Afterwards: Merino (1883), Rambouillet (1903), Shropshire and Hampshire (1910), Suffolk (1921), and Lincoln (1933) were introduced. Navajo wools as a result became crimpier, short stapled, greasier, and more difficult to hand spin into a weaving weft. Familiarity with the characteristics of the wool of these "improved breeds" assists museum curators in the dating of Navajo textiles.

Steve: I agree with your tactile approach in collecting/buying Turkoman weavings. I am sure you have had the experience of going through a stack of small “rugs” when suddenly your hand encounters a softness that feels like a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day. You look down and there is this shimmering jewel of scintillating goodness. Just touching a really good Turkoman weaving makes you feel good. It is easy to see how so many Turkoman chuvals were worn out in the west next to beds. They felt fantastic and revitalizing to those enjoying their company for a lifetime.

The best way I can imagine to produce a database of early Turkoman weavings is to open a thread for presentation and vetting of Turkoman articles. A committee of Turkoman cognoscenti could be formed to provide guidance for the vetting. After a sufficient period of time the pieces selected could be collected together at a sponsoring institution for examination and final speculation about age. Thereafter wefts from original areas would be pulled out and put into glassine envelops with numbers. The numbers would correspond to the final consensus opinion of each pieces age. The numbered samples with opinions would be forwarded to Dr. Jull at ASU for C-14 analysis. Dr. Jull is the leading authority in the field. I believe he could rank those pieces that were later than about 1700 AD but before 1882 and if this ranking correlated well with the politics of the various known historical contexts as reflected in the iconography then I believe we would have data that should be treated as factual until something more precise comes along.

I have did a similar project with Kurt Munkacsi and Nobuko Kajitani. The outcome of our 8 sample test run was published in Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies Five. One of our numbered samples was from the Ardabil Carpet now in the Getty Museum, the one with no borders. Jull’s fiftieth percentile C-14 date for this rug fell within the range of the inscribed date! One of my samples had a correlated major spike’s fiftieth percentile at 1650. This was so surprising that Dr. Jull ran the test again, but he got the exact same results. This was the first Turkoman sample, out of many hundreds that he had tested, that was definitively pre 1700 AD. This was very big news in the small world of textile curators around the world. The weaving tested was a Tekke chuval but its size and design character, including both major and minor gulls, was Salor. The Salor were the dominant tribe during the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries. I think Tekke weavings with Salor scale and iconography should be considered as pre 1767 AD based on my experience with classical textiles, especially those at the MET in NYC.

Tekke weavings with classical size, weave fineness, and iconographic scale but with Yomud borders should date to the late 18th century… in my opinion. The Tekke became the dominant Turkoman tribe in the early 19th century and their palette changed from venous to arterial blood in color. One wonders how smoothly such a large aesthetic color change like this would have taken to establish itself. Certainly by the Merv Oasis period (1847 – 1882) the best Tekke weavings were mainly brilliant madder red. I believe some late pre-prolific period Tekke commercial carpets were dyed the rich old venous purplish color. The reason for this is hard to fathom but I suspect it had to do with market pressures and shaman dreams. By 1882, when the Russians finally subjugated the Turkmen tribes, the Turkmen were already in full rug production mode as they tried to buy modern articles of war such as canons and rifles. The Turkoman assiduously carried cannons from far distant times around with them. They were items of very high prestige. O’Donovan makes many references to these canon and the Turkmen’s attitudes toward them. It certainly seems Jack Williams is well aware of their shamanic powers, see above!

I don’t know the current cost of an 8 specimen run in Jull’s cyclotron but I am sure it is thousands and not tens of thousands. I would think a lot of significant data could be generated for about 10K.

Jim Allen

Posted by James Blanchard on 09-08-2007 03:35 PM:

Raising $$$

Hi Steve,

Imagine the peer review process for adjudicating a research grant proposal related to dating old rugs. It seems unlikely that consensus would be reachable by even two expert peer reviewers....


Posted by Steve Price on 09-08-2007 04:22 PM:

Hi James

The issues for reviewers would be:

1. Is the question worth investigating?
2. Have the methods been reduced to practice or are they still hypothetical?
3. Are the people who will be doing the analyses experienced in using the method, and do they have access to the facilities needed?
4. Are they aware of sources of error and other problems in the method, and how to circumvent or minimize them?

I don't think it would be difficult to persuade reviewers that not having reliable methods for date attribution of historically important textiles is a problem worth solving. I spent 18 months as a program director at National Science Foundation (half of their program directors are academics on loan, half are career federal employees), and was responsible for assigning proposals to reviewers, evaluating their reports, and making decisions about which to fund and at what budgetary level, so I have more than passing familiarity with how the process works and how reviewers evaluate proposals. I don't think NSF is the most likely source for this project, by the way.


Steve Price

Posted by Steve Price on 09-08-2007 04:59 PM:

Hi Jim

I think your C-14 dating project could be very exciting, too, although it approaches a different set of questions than the possible use of tensile creep dating. The reason is (as you know, of course) that C-14 dating can't work for things younger than, perhaps, 300 years old. The tensile creep method could result in reliable attribution criteria for 18th and 19th century dating.


Steve Price

Posted by Jim Allen on 09-11-2007 03:05 PM:

Funding Ideas

The following article details the work of Kathryn Jakes, Ohio State University, concerning her technical analysis of historical North American Indian textiles.

"Textiles give us information about the technological skills of the people who made them," said Kathryn Jakes, a professor of consumer sciences at Ohio State University. "We can learn about a population from what they wore just as we learn from the tools and other gear they used on a regular basis."

There is a wealth of data on the net dealing with the modern scientific testing of historical plant and animal fibers and hairs. There are serious questions to be asked about the relationship between weaving sophistication and cultural expressiveness.

Steve…. the NSF funded Dr. Jakes work.

Jim Allen

Posted by Steve Price on 09-11-2007 03:13 PM:

Hi Jim

Nice article. The NSF funding is probably largely based on the anthropological/archeological focus of the work. Developing methods to date carpets and such has significance along these lines, but because the interest is in relatively recent (in archeological terms) textiles, it may be peripheral to their programs. There are lots of possibilities, and federal agencies sometimes jointly contribute funds to support projects that don't fall squarely within the purview of either of them.

Thanks for the link.

Steve Price