The art of rug making reaches back into pre-history. It was first made to cover the animals and was also used as a blanket and then to cover the floor. The majority of pieces available today at dealers, auctions, antique shops, department stores and even museums are mostly products of the 19th and 20th century.
In the mountainous regions of the East stretching from Turkey through Persia and Central Asia into China, where the fleece of the sheep and the hair of the camel and goat grow long and fine, the art of carpet-weaving reached its height early in the 16th century. The artisan worked on a handloom consisting essentially of two horizontal beams on which the warp (the vertical threads) was stretched; on the lower one the finished carpet was rolled while the warp unrolled from the upper one.
From Stone-Age man who dressed in the hides and pelts of animals it was only a matter of time before wool was obtained by fleecing. Next probably came a rudimentary form of weaving using twisted strands laid side-by-side and interspersed with similar cross running strands. Later the knot was invented.
Modern Oriental Rugs are woven the same way as they have been for thousands of years. Pile rugs, the most common of Oriental rugs combine weaving and knotting. Rows of silk and or wool knots are tied on a foundation usually of cotton. These rows of knots become the pile of the carpet.
Unfortunately very little is known about the earliest examples of knotted rugs. A small number of these have been preserved in museums and private collections, but the sadly the vast majority of older rugs have disappeared.
The survival of the earliest knotted rug, the Pazyryk carpet, is owed to the Siberian ice in the Altai Mountains near the outer Mongolian border. This rug, discovered by Soviet archaeologist S.I. Rudenko in 1949, was covered by ice in a burial chamber and had been preserved that way for over 2500 years. The Pazyryk carpet is of unknown origin, measuring roughly 6 by 5 feet woven with the Turkish knot. The design is of a dominant tile-work central motif surrounded by borders featuring rows of elk and horsemen.
Another rug found in the same area, this time with a Senneh knot, dates to the first century B.C. But, long before that historical records show that the court of Cyrus the Great, who founded the Persian monarchy over 2,500 years ago, was bedecked by magnificent carpets. Classical tales recount how Alexander the Great found carpet of a very fine fabric in Cyrus tomb.
On the rock tombs of Beni Hassan, Egypt, c.2500 B.C., men are depicted with the implements of rug weaving. Other evidence of the early use of rugs is seen in the drawings on the ancient palace walls of Nineveh.
As early as the Eighth Century B.C., wealthy families frequently adorned their homes with magnificent rugs. The great period of creativity in rug making took place in Persia Safaviieh Dynasty (1499-1722) under the reigns of Shah Tahmasp and Shah Abbas. From this period came the most glorious and outstanding rugs of historic significance.
Tabriz, Kashan, Herat, and Kerman became busy centers of rug production. An interesting fact is that the art of rug weaving flourished in the 15th Century in Persia and Turkey. Followed by India early in the 16th Century and China in the 17th Century. Even though weaving was common to all humanity, the end result of each ethnic group was quite different. This theme of recurring ideas was coined Volkergedanken by German ethnologist Adolf Bastian (1826-1905).