Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-20-2002 03:11 PM:

Eastern Mystery, Western Science

I wanted to clarify something that I sense has been bothering some of you. In our quest to illuminate the subject of art and art making, or view it from a different angle, I've been stressing the importance of myth, of the metaphysical, the symbolic. And we've been bringing up the contributions of Eastern cultures, particularly perhaps the Chinese, in the development of civilization.

By stressing these aspects of human thinking and perception, I do not mean to suggest that the West has made no contributions, or that magic is superior to science. Steve, early on in this salon you wanted to make clear that we mustn't view women as art-makers and men as - what? Grunts? And at several other places I’ve sensed a bit of resistance toward the wisdom of older - or other – cultures. A celebration of their beauty and insight has been greeted with a bit of defensiveness, an assertion that Science and Western Thinking, after all, have proven to be well worth whatever we may have given up along the way.

People, I’m not trying to put down Western Civilization or science or linear thinking or, heaven forbid, MEN. Men are cool! Science is cool! We have undoubtedly made progress in many areas since the Industrial Revolution. Our lives in the West are most certainly more comfortable, in certain respects, than the lives of people in Equatorial Africa. Hopefully, we will figure out a way to distribute resources so everybody can be more comfortable while at the same time maintaining the fragile ecosystems of our one and only planet.

There are problems, however, in trying to understand art strictly from a scientific viewpoint. The Basic Design thread is actually an attempt to give people scientific tools both to make art and to understand it in formal terms. It was the 20th century’s Brave New Way of breaking down the mystery into scientific elements and principles. Does it work? Absolutely! Does it tell the whole story? No!

The visual arts are not visual science. They are a form of visual poetry. Even the paintings of Josef Alber, who painted squares of color on color, or the line art of Bridget Riley – an Op Artist – indeed, one can include many 20th century artists in this category or in the earlier, Formalist categories – make statements that are more than the sum of their scientifically calibrated parts. These artists were investigating cold science in visual form. They wanted to make statements about optical effects. Yet their paintings manage to “speak”. They are beautiful in ways that even their creators may not have anticipated.


That “why” is the nature of art. Art is about the gray areas. It is about mystery and magic – for even as it reveals a scientific truth about the nature of complimentary colors on the human eye, it reveals yet another mystery – the “why” of our being, the “why” of our having wound up here, in this place, on this planet, on this day, looking at or making this painting, this poem, this song.

And so, when we look at art, we must also accept that we are looking at ourselves, at our own perception of another’s work. We must also accept that the person who made this thing was very different from ourselves. She may have been of a different sex. We must accept that this is a very crucial, fundamental difference. We must accept that she had to deal with social considerations and physical problems we – if we’re men – have never even thought of. Does this make us sexist? No! Unless we refuse to listen to what women are trying to tell us. If we then curl up in our defensive porcupine posture and get angry, THEN we are sexist. Was this person of another race, another culture? Are we by definition racist? NO – unless we refuse to learn as much as possible about that race, that culture. THEN we are racist. If we write our history books and interpret our sociological statistics through angry, fearful, chauvinistic, and defensive eyes, THEN our whole understanding of the other people who inhabit our planet will be tainted.

John says that we can’t see beyond our “conceptual sunglasses”. Since he hasn’t provided us with a definition of what he means by that, I’m going to guess that he believes we are so culturally conditioned, or even perhaps sexually conditioned, that we can’t walk in another boots, see through THEIR eyes. John? Is this what you meant?

Well, to a large extent I think he is right. BUT – isn’t that one of the major roles of the artist? - to break down some of those barriers? And can’t we try, by getting inside a painting or a sculpture or a rug, using our formalist design tools as well as our “gut responses” to the piece, to get closer to the artist, to the creative process that made the rug? Can’t we learn by doing?

I submit – in some cases we can ONLY learn by doing. We will never, ever, understand the love of a Turkmen for his horse unless we get to know the critters, get up on their backs, feel their incredible power as they burst from a fast canter into a full-out gallop. We will never know the agony of a creative woman trapped in a patriarchal culture unless we learn something of her life, something of the social system in which she lived. We should learn to do something SHE did! We should learn to dance her dance, sing her song. At the very least we should listen to her music, understand the power of the religious beliefs that may have kept her trapped, yet gave her solace.

We will surely NEVER know if we get mad every time we think about the implications of a woman using the word “patriarchal”. We will surely NEVER know if we don’t study – and take seriously – the history of the Goddesses and their acolytes in what has become the Islamic world.

We need to look at other persecuted people as well. I’ve been impressed by how little most of us know about the Armenians, an ancient people who’ve been the victims of massacres and brutal treatment. I’ve been bringing up Gantzhorn’s book a great deal because we haven’t taken his assertions about Christian Armenians and their contributions to rug art with nearly enough seriousness. We need to study small groups like the Assyrians. We need to look at the Sufi strain of Islam and the Ba’hai religion. We need to ask ourselves, how much of the ancient animistic and shamanistic cultures carried over into 18th and 19th century Caucasian art? And we won’t understand those cultures if we simply dismiss them as superstitions!

All those dragons are trying to tell us something!

And how can we know what the word “symbol” really means, unless we get a brush and ink and try copying some designs? How can we understand the problems confronting a dragon rug designer, for example, trying to make something new and beautiful because he was inspired by a pile of old embroideries, if we don’t try to make a simple design of our own?

The other day I was at the local Starbucks for some serious caffeine. The barrista (barristo?) is a young man, a university scholar. I told him what we’ve been about here on Turkotek, trying to understand some of the design sources of Caucasian rugs. His very first, absolutely unhesitating response: Well! You must be studying their spirituality!

Wise words! And yet, even though I’ve dangled the dragon bait, the crescent moon bait, the cross bait, all the symbols that I could find in just a couple of rugs – nobody has taken that angle seriously at all. First, symbols don’t exist. Then, if they do exist, nobody can read them. Then, we shouldn’t listen to a person who thinks SHE alone can read them.

Hello? The study of those symbols and their meanings is absolutely a science – if history or art history or psychology or sociology are sciences, then the study of symbols has to be one the primary concerns of all of them. They are a language. Rug scholars must familiarize themselves with some of the more common ones and see if they can relate them to their rugs. They can reveal volumes not only about your rug but also about the ethnicity and/or belief system(s) of the person who made it.

Can we PROVE this? Absent written records to back up this art, it’s difficult. We know what the pharaoh’s hieroglyphics mean because we have corollary records, from outside sources as well as Egyptian. So our problem is a little more difficult. BUT – we can study the poetry, the religion, the other aspects of Caucasian culture or the elements of Caucasian daily life that we can find and document, and cross-reference it to the rugs. There is a GREAT DEAL we can do to learn more, but we can’t track the bear if we insist the bear doesn’t exist!

And, even if we understand every single hieroglyph in every single Egyptian tomb – we STILL don’t understand HOW they got those pyramids built. It does not add up! The science does not exist to explain how those stones got up there. So we can “see” – and yet we STILL may not KNOW.

I submit - mystery and magic are still with us! And we should embrace them. They are not our enemies! They are part of our universe, accepting them is part of the challenge of being human.

And, we need to accept that art is not made in a vacuum. Read that last stanza of Yeats’ Circus Animals poem in the Scythian post. Art is made in the mind, from the bits of pieces of our hearts, from old scraps of mythology and childhood memory. Artists also look at nature. They see a glorious sunset, a field of waving grain, the stars glinting in an icy sky. They look at people, at animals and plants. They overhear scraps of song, a scream in the night.

It’s a messy process, sometimes a painful process – it doesn’t come neatly wrapped in a plastic bundle with nice tags on it, explaining to the artist: OK, this scrap of your memory came from Persia, that from the Kurdish rug you saw at the market – any more than a baby is born in little bits and pieces of DNA, all wrapped up in plastic!

We’ve made much of the idea that this bit came from Persia, that from Anatolia. This shows a bit of a floral design, that one’s a leaf, so forth. But finally, it’s a man and his graph paper, a woman with her loom and her balls of colored yarn. Before her are the warps, strung like the wires of a piano, silent, empty. Only her fingers can fill them in and make them sing.


Her silent, unspoken thoughts dance on the strings of the weft. She plays a memory, a song. She has wool in the colors of fire and sky. She remembers the sight of the crescent moon at twilight, the sweat and glory of her daughter’s birth.

In these last few days, I’d like to hear from you about some new ideas for understanding Caucasian rug design. I’d like to hear more from Chuck about the Scythians. I’d like to hear more from Jon about ancient designs – did they find their way into Caucasian rugs, perhaps via the Turkmen? How? Did somebody find a cylinder seal and make a direct copy? Or was this a symbol language that stayed alive for thousands of years?

Do Jon and Chuck have common ground for understanding geometric vs. “stick figure” art? Is it possible the animal style remained a potent force? In fact – did it have an influence on PERSIAN art? A study of ancient Persian art and culture will reveal a great influence from Greece. Did they assimilate Steppe and Caucasian ideas as well? What about the Buddhists?

From those of you who are experts in Kurdish design – Michael, perhaps - can you tell us about the political situation of the Kurds in the Caucasus? Did they settle, as they did in Persian villages?

Marvin, can you tell us about Turkic design and how it might have become interwoven with Caucasian and Kurdish art? Vincent, I’m surprised you haven’t sent us a rug design! I know that Marla & Filiberto are busy but – I know you have things to tell us.

Finally of course – this board is not just for a few people to write and give ideas!

And now, especially for Patrick, here’s another quote from WB Yeats – and many thanks for showing us his Bidjar bag, and of course to all of you who have written and contributed. More! More!


The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.


Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-20-2002 03:20 PM:

Quiet People are Important Too

Oops - I wanted to say "thank you" to everybody who has been reading this Salon - even if you haven't said anything.

It means a lot that you've been going along, showing interest.

Maybe someday we'll all met in the "real" world!

All my best,

Posted by David_Sablan_Camacho on 02-21-2002 12:21 AM:

Howdy, I am new here. Good to see hippydom is alive and well. I live in Hong Kong and am of Eurasian descent. I preface this because as being somewhere in the middle no one will take offense at what I am about to say. Being a permanent fence sitter has value in viewing other cultures fairly objectively. "Cultures", as one wit put it ,"are a bit like tooth brushes, it's nice to know the other fellow has one but I wouldn't want to use it". Indeed, China is a very old society and of course there is some wisdom to be garnered from it but having lived in the belly of the dragon for many years I can say a lot of Western Asiaphiles are probably more in touch with the spirit of Taoism or Buddhism than many Asians. For a Westerner it is a new experience and it is approached with fresh eyes and heart ,out here they are pacticed with the same entrenched unquestioning obedience that is expected of an Irish Catholic. Let us hope that a Western retransmission of these philosophies will breath new life into them. Insofar as understanding what the inspires another culture in producing their art than you have to experience what they experience ie. give birth in a mud hut and then go back to the field next day and hoe some yams "walking a mile someone elses moccasins" as it were. My Dad spent his childhood trudging knee deep through a rice paddy behind a water buffalo and and definitely left me with the impression that it wasn't much fun otherwise he would have stayed where he was. Anyway "God is alive and magic is afoot" or something like that. But the least said about it the better. "In the beginning there were no words, words were born out of the womb of matter" The Tao Te Ching. I posted this not to discourage anyone from asking questions but just to offer another perspective. I am sincerely impressed with the passion and love that is expressed about the humble "rug". Happy to be a grunt , she cooks, I carry the groceries. cheers, DSC

Posted by Steve Price on 02-21-2002 06:22 AM:

Hi David,

Your comment about walking a mile in the other guy's moccasins reminds me of some general advice that I think is good: Before criticizing someone, walk a mile in his shoes. By the time he finds out what you said, you'll be a mile away and you'll have his shoes.

It probably works even if "he" is a "she".


Steve Price

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-21-2002 12:18 PM:

Peace and Love

Whoa - that's a good one

But trust me - you don't WANT my shoes. Especially not the beautiful red female shoes with the 3 inch heels and the ankle straps.

If you can walk a mile in THOSE things, you may HAVE them

Blister City.

And welcome David! It's good to hear a new voice & a fresh perspective! And you make some excellent points.

But, I would like to know - HOW DID YOU FIGURE OUT THE HIPPIE THING? Here I am trying to be A Mysterious Incarnation Of Ishtar and he makes me for a hippie chick.

And I keep forgetting the part about the muddy fields and the labor pains without painkillers. The horse flying in the wind thing is a LOT more fun.

Now where did I leave my bag of oregano?!

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-21-2002 02:58 PM:

A More Serious Response

Dear David, Steve

This salon has often brought conflicting - or at least - differing - viewpoints out into the open. David really hit me in the brain when he stated that life in the belly of China was not nearly so romantic an experience as many of us Western idealists would like to believe. And I admit, there's a great deal of hope & idealism in my point of view. Enough, sometimes, to blind me to the very real advances we in the West have made, in medicine, technology, communications - we wouldn't be talking here today if it weren't for modern science. And I am humbled and impressed to hear from a writer who knows the world of China, and who knows from a parent what it's like to walk behind a water buffalo.

Steve has made a good point too, about the shoes - and that's why I've asked some of you to contribute one last post, if you can: sometimes in the heat of battle we assume hardened positions when in fact, words give us the opportunity to share our ideas and hopefully find some common ground. I would like to hear about YOUR shoes.

For myself - being criticized is nothing new. Being perceived as a Rebellious Harpy is nothing new. So I don't mind having my ideas attacked! For me, it's life as usual. It's all part of living and part of learning: nobody attacks an artist's ideas more bitterly than the artist herself. It's an endless process of trial and error, call and response, love and hate.

As the Hopi say, life is a walk with death.

So - just as you have been so generous in sharing with me the benefit of your wisdom, I would like you to try walking in my high-heeled shoes.

Metaphorically, of course!

So? Steve, Michael, Marvin, John? Door's open!

Posted by Steve Price on 02-21-2002 03:26 PM:

Hi Sophia,

There are over 280 messages in the Salon; about 70 from me. I just don't have anything left to say that I haven't already said at least once.

It has been stimulating and educational. I truly appreciate what you've done here, and I doubt that there is a better source of information on the subject matter than the contents of this Salon and its accompanying discussion.


Steve Price

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 02-21-2002 05:01 PM:

Why Scythians show up in a discussion on Caucasian Rugs

Hi Sophia,

I'm working on a post about my Scythian hangup; it'll be tomorrow before I've got it ready. If I'm right this salon stays open until the 23rd, tomorrow's the 22nd. If I'm not right, it'll all be a mystery...

Chuck Wagner

Posted by David_Sablan_Camacho on 02-21-2002 10:51 PM:

Far out!

Wasn't "critcising" anyone or anything merely offering a different viewpoint. I hope my comments about hippies wasn't offensive, it just reminded me of the kind of conversations we used to have in Speedway meadows while waiting for the Dead to show up, and actually thought it was a compliment. My main concern was being labled a "racist" I have this PCphobia thing so I thought it best to preface my statment about location and background. Anyway to retrack this conversation re Western Science vs Eatern Mysticism, as an anology let's compare Western psychiatry to CTM (Chinese Traditional Medicine). CTM actually views it self as a science although much of it is premised on rather "dodgy" assumptions of the natural world and it s relation to the human body. An example of this is, I was talking about the the concept of "yeet hay" and "leung" (the heating and cooling attributes of foods) with a well known Chinese cook. I asked her why the lychee fruit is considered "yeet hay" or heating. It is a very sweet fruit and is delightful when chilled I would have thought it would be "leung" or a cooling food. Her reply was that "Ah, but snakes seek out Lychees trees to urinate on, therefore Lychee is "yeet hay" because snakes are "very yeet hay".". Well to make a this stupid tale a little shorter 1# Snakes cannot urinate as they have a cloaca which is a single all purpose excreting orifice more like a bird, 2#I have lychee trees in my garden haven't found any more snakes there than anywhere else and 3# to assume that snakes seek out specific locations to do their business just isn't true they are not like dogs or cat's that need to mark out a territory they just "go" wherever as needed. Hardly scientific but the Chinese swear by CTM and have a great deal of "faith" in it. Very often CTM is effective when Western medicine has failed. Acupuncture is an excellent example of ways to relieve pain without using drugs. Converesly I would suggest that the psychiatry is nothing more than the "techno-shamanism"., how can one say it is a science when it is whole structure is founded on a bunch of unproven theories. But in the West you have phd degree programs spend years studying it and once you are done hang out your shingle and you are a qualified healer of the mind and spirit. If this isn't mysticism than what is, it's definitely a mystery to me. The commonality I see between TCM and the Psychaitry is that is that they are both premised by basic culturally biased world views. Also remember that a lot of the hard Sciences such as Astronomy and Math have their basis from Persia or Arabia. Newton's law of gravity is a universally a accpeted scientific law, if you see a elephant falling out of the sky you don't ask yourself is this a Chinese elephant or Norwegian elephant but you definitely get out it's way. I'd like to redirect this discussion back to the Scythians. Since my interest in Asian art and history was piqued when I moved to HK the approach here towards it moves in an opposite than in the west. There have been a lot of Ordos bronzes appearing on the art market here which I assume to be unearthed in Gansu, Ninxia, and Nei Mongol provinces. Anyway some of the decorative bronzes are definitely Scythian but are attributed to the Yueh Chi or Xiong Nu tribes. The Scythians are never mentioned. I found the article of great interest. Especially the idea of having a completely mobile empire that has some amount of cohesion to it without building any cities. If you want a real mind blower, recently a woman wrote a book on the Mummies of Xinjiang postulating they were of Celtic descent (were talking 3 or 4 thousand years ago) because of the similarities of the plaids and weaving techniques also I notice some similarities between some of the Ordos buckels and decorations to 10/11th century Celtic and Viking motiffs. Go figure. Shoes? "rubba slippas", size 11 and loose fitting. DSC

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 02-22-2002 01:14 AM:


I suspect that if I had researched this rug book three weeks ago, the salon may have ended prematurely.

Reinhard Hubel, The Book Of Carpets, 1964, in discussing Caucasian carpets, says:

"The Caucasus region was always open to new ideas; the result is always Caucasian, even when the models are apparent. Be it Herat, Djoushegan or medallion pattern, cloudband or dragon ornament, standing vases or a tree design, everything is fused into the one individuality with a seemingly boundless strength."

This statement seems to sum up your argument for a truly Caucasian style, regardless of the circuitous paths we have followed here to confirm or deny it.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Steve Price on 02-22-2002 12:38 PM:

Hi People,

I just accidentally deleted a wonderful post on Scythian stuff that Chuck Wagner had labored over. I apologize to him for this, and I hope he still has the file and can repost it. Or, if anyone else has a copy of it, please send it to me and I'll repost it under his name.


Steve Price

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-22-2002 01:49 PM:

Hi Patrick - thank you for mentioning the Huber book! I guess, pace Wendel, I'll have to read it

But wasn't it fun sharing the ideas and methodology that arrived at the same conclusion?

I'm trying to share with you, not how to read another book, but how to look at art and strip it down to its formal parts. Then, how to understand that in terms of the people who made the work. I'm a little annoyed at the moment that Certain People seem to think this is witchcraft, as opposed to study & thought.

Anyhow Patrick, I've enjoyed all your comments this past few weeks! It's been a pleasure.

David - I agree with you 100% about the overlap in forms of thought. I've been drawing some sharp lines in order to illustrate different world-views in order to try & make a point - which is, we should learn - and respect - more than one way of thinking.

Now - back to the Scythians. I share your interest in them - however, I want to hold off writing too much until we can see Chuck Wagner's post that got lost.

Something sparked, though, when you mentioned the Celtics: namely, the Vikings. Have you looked at their dragon ships and their art?

Posted by Chuck_Wagner on 02-22-2002 05:07 PM:

Scythians V 1.1

Hi Sophia,

I probably owe everyone a decent explanation for how I got off on the Scythian thing, and how I thought it might relate to evolution into Caucasian dragon rugs and Turkmen design. So, here we go.

First a summary.

The Caucasian connection, if any:

1) Scyths occupied land on both sides of the Caspian
2) Scyths were great artists and metalworkers
3) Scyths traded heavily with the peoples of the Caucasus, Greece, and to a
lesser degree, Turkey
4) They were pushed into the area surrounding the Caucasus toward the end of their time, merging with the cultures present at that time.
5) They did dragons

It seems reasonable to me that we should see some Scythian influence on the art of the Caucasus.

The Turkmen connection, if any:

1) Scyths occupied territory later held by the Turkmen
2) Scyths traded heavily with the Persians, which means moving through
Transoxianna regularly.
2) Those east of the Caspian probably assimilated into northeastern Persian culture toward the end of their time.
3) The Uzbeks and Kazaks are descendants of the Mongol hordes. Their cultural ties come from the east. The Turkmen of Turkmenistan in were not, they were Turkic and/or Persian, and their cultural ties come from areas influenced by the Scyths.

It seems reasonable to me that the Scythian style may have persisted in areas peripheral to the main thrust of the Mongol hordes, particularly just east of the Caspian.

The Long Part:

Up front, let me say that I understand the separation in time between this stuff (500BC - 300AD) and the weaving period visible to us today (basically 15th century and later) is large. But elements of Scythian design may have persisted throughout that intervening period.

A Modern Analog:
When the Soviet collectivization pressed into the Caucasus and Central Asia, those weavers who didn't flee ended up working in workshops built for the purposes of capitalizing on demand for Turkoman and Caucasian rugs. Design degeneration occurred almost overnight. Colors were often ghastly, designs simplified, materials were changed, and the weavers hearts were no longer in it.

The weaving tradition was changed permanently, but survived the onslaught in no small part because of the appreciation by the invading culture of the value and popularity of the product. Rugs with classic motifs are woven today in Ashgebat and the surrounding environs. The basic underlying design elements persisted. Soviet and post-Soviet Russians have made valuable contributions to the study of Central Asian carpets, largely because they feel a connection to the culture that goes beyond the ability of any political system to stifle it.

If today, why not in post-Scythian times.

Next, a little history:

The Scythians apparently came west from the steppes adjacent to the Altai mountains sometime around 700 BC. They ended up controlling the territory from the Altai mountains in the east, to the Danube River at the northern edge of Romania. Their Central Asian territory went as far south as the Mangyshlak Peninsula on the east side of the Caspian, then east to the Aral Sea and up along the Syr Darya. On the other side of the Caspian, they came all the way down to the Caucasus mountains. They displaced the Cimmerians and controlled virtually all of what is now called the Ukraine. The center of gravity of their culture was in the Crimea.

They travelled for the most part in horse-drawn wagons and by horseback, giving them tremendous mobility and the ability to carry large heavy cargo. They had yurt-like portable shelters that were used in encampments. Defense of existing grazing areas, and acquisition of new grazing areas, seemed to be a primary motivator. They used felt textiles in ways similar to modern Turkmen, and were excellent gold workers and some had highly developed artistic skills.

A map, from 1762, of the ancient Medean empire, with the Scyth territories marked:

And a modern map of the same area:

They apparently traded actively with the Persians, Armenians, and Greeks, the latter of which seemed to have meaningful influence on Scythian art. They had established trading relations with the Persians following the failure of Cyrus the Great to overcome them in the Syr Darya area, and their later defeat of Darius at the Danube. They maintained trade routes to the eastern territories but were eventually pressed west to the edge of the Caspian by invading nomads from the east. I suspect that those who didn't move west around the Caspian moved south and assimilated into Persian and Turkic cultures. (Sophia, you'll love this: In 529 B.C. Cyrus the Great was killed in a battle with the Amazon women of the steppes: the Massagetaen queen Tomyris and her army.
Go Xena, Warrior Princess !!)

Toward the end of their period, they were pushed from the western Ukraine into the area in and around the Crimea and east to the Caucasus, where they eventually were assimilated into the conquering and indigenous cultures. The fate of those Scythians east of the Caspian is not as well documented, but one could presume assimilation into later Turkic or Persian cultures approaching from the southwest. This, in response to pressure from invading nomads sourcing from the east. No more Scythians.

A map, showing migration patterns west of the Caspian:

Few would mourn the passing of the Scyths because they were generally unpleasant folks, fierce, expansive, taken to blinding their slaves and subjugating their women. They were replaced by the Sarmatians, who blinded their slaves and subjugated their women, except for the ones trained to be Amazon fighters.

A Scyth:

In the post-Scythian world, the most dramatic and cuturally destructive event was the coming of the Mongols. But the Mongol hordes did not collide full force with the area just north of the Caucasus mountains, or the area just east of the Caspian. The larger Golden horde went north of the Caspian and on toward Poland. The southern hordes followed the Silk Route, largely, and concentrated on Persia and points west.

This is not to imply that the Mongols had no impact, but rather to suggest that the areas on both sides of the Caspian may have been places where Scythian style may have had a greater chance of survival.

A map, of Hulegu Khans invasion route:

The Rug Part:

What does all this have to do with rug design evolution ?

Well, what this means is that one should be looking for design elements in more recent weaving that are common to both sides of the Caspian, and possibly related to Scythian style. Likely candidates are clearly Caucasian to the west, and Yomut and other western Turkmen weavings to the east.

Some examples I'd like to consider follow. Sophia's mind has a well developed ability to perceive the visually not-so-obvious; we must have been born under the same star. I hope at least she can see some of this, otherwise I might be GASP ! wrong.

For starters, we'll consider the Running Dog border. Which one ?, the Seichur border or the Yomut border ?, may be the first question that comes to many rug enthusiasts mind.

Let's look at three.

A Yomut:

and two Caucasians:

Then take a look at this Altaic nomad felt . And, imagine what the border outline would be like if you traced it on a warp/weft grid.

I think it's not much of a stretch to see some strong similarity in both the Caucasian and Turkoman style.

Next, the dragon part.

Concentrate on the motifs close to the centerline of this Perepedil rug, often described as some form of poultry. And indeed, in some of these rugs, it does look like a turkey. Pay attention to the proportions, angles, and orientation.

Then look at the motif on this Beshiri rug, typically described as a cloudband, paying attention to the same elements.

Now have a look at this Scythian dragon:

As one last exercise, I'll show a border design that's about as not-unique as I can imagine, the reciprocal triangle border. But it is heavily used inCaucasian rugs, and in the less sophisticated Yomut designs as well:

So, maybe the ghosts of the Scythians are still around. Certainly, I haven't been able to find evidence of some of the finer rendering work, like these tattoos from the skin of Scythian prince of 50 B.C.:
although that last one looks familiar. But it's the really basic, simple stuff that persists throughout the ages.


That's all.

One last thing: David, it's highly likely that either the building you live in, or the building you work in, has little mirrors just inside the door to reflect the bad juju back out where it belongs. The Fung Shui man has been there. A lot of the mysticism has been lost in that area (Little Red Book , Cultural Revolution, etc) but it's not all gone. Look out the window in the morning, at the Tai Chi groupies.

That's it, my fingers are numb and freezing from the AC. Thanks to Sophia for a GREAT salon, and to everyone else for putting up with me. Hope my spelling's OK.

Yours, Chuck

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-22-2002 06:03 PM:

Bravo Chuck!

Thank you!!!! I want to really read this closely - what an awesome job you've done.

And I love the story about Queen Amyris!


Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-22-2002 06:04 PM:

I mean, Tomyris - I can't type today

Posted by David_Sablan_Camacho on 02-23-2002 11:06 AM:

just passing through (the great wall)

Mistah Cholly, Thanks for your succint summation of 2300 years of Chinese culture. Golly, I really didn't know what those funny little mirrors were for (by the way they're put them on the outside of doors not the inside and why would you assume either where I live or work has them anyway). Between your knowledge of "Chinese Juju" and knowlege of the 60's hippy vernacular (groupies being women who slept with rock stars) your insight leaves me gobsmacked. It is heart warming to know that the old girls are getting it on with their shifu. Sorry to hear your fingers are getting numb from the air con. Either you should turn it down or get out your house more often. But even so, King Jiz wonders which one of him isn't his. That winter plum, is it blooming yet? What can I say? Existance is but imagined. So tell us why they put an eye on the pyramid on the US dollar. Western Feng Shui? Yes, I may be mad but momma didn't raise no fools. I suspect I'll get bumped from this site for quoting Kenneth Patchen, but such is. DSC

Posted by Steve Price on 02-23-2002 11:59 AM:

Hi David,

I'm so out of touch with what's gone on in pop culture for the past several decades that I have no idea whether you've insulted someone in your post, if so, who that is, and I haven't a clue to who Kenneth Patchen is. Anyway, I see nothing that would make me leap into action with my delete-stuff utility.

If you did insult someone intentionally, please don't do it anymore. There's enough of that on other rug-related discussion boards to satisfy anyone's appetite for blood sports.


Steve PRice

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-23-2002 04:53 PM:

The Scythians

Dear Chuck,

I've had a chance to assimilate Chuck's fine post and I wish we could discuss this one idea for another week or month or so.

But I think his connections look feasible - the borders and also that Perpedil rug.

I wish I could be more expansive but I am POOPED

Anyhow: I think that Chuck has made an excellent case for further study into possible traces of Scythian design in Caucasian textiles. I wouldn't limit it to rugs: look at the Kaitag embroideries. And also, look at Uzbek felts - and I wouldn't stop there. I'll bet if we looked at PERSIAN art with a different mindset, we might find some design ideas similar to those expressed by the Scythians.

Now - a major problem here is the timeline. We're talking about a design source, a possible design source, dating back 1500 years or more before we see what might appear to be its descendants in Caucasian art. However, some design concepts may have descended from mother to daughter, generation to generation, over periods of time. Coptic textiles have been shown from early days, which have corrollaries with early 20th century Egyptian tulle bi telli, or Asyut tulle. So it's not impossible that we could find actual traces of the Sythian culture, coming down through the ages.

Another possibility is something similar to phenomena observable in the pottery art of Native American artists, both in Mexico and the US, to wit: people find ancient shards and find direct inspiration in their designs. So the design leaps hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, from the mind of one artist into the hands of another.

We are hampered somewhat by the lack of carpet textiles in between the Pazyryk carpet and the ones we can find painted in European art of the Gothic era. So we cannot really know if there was a generational design transfer. And so much artwork is undocumented, particularly in the so-called "applied arts" such as textile design, embroidery, carpets - that we don't have records, period. However, I am hopeful that people digging will discover more hoards, or other types of records, which might shed some light on these matters.

Finally, I think if one traces the migration patterns of the Celtic people, as pointed out in the Scythian thread showing the Lindesfarn book, one can see a direct transfer of the animal style to a new home in the north. And even beyond that, look at the art of the Vikings. Their dragon ships may have sailed as far as America.

I want to thank all of you for a fascinating experience.