A Brief History of Rugs: Part One

by Jeff Mackey


The term "rug" is derived from the Scandinavian word rugga by way of the old Norwegian word rogg, which meant a wool covering for the bed or body. For several centuries in Europe, the term rug denoted a rough, heavy woolen fabric characterized by a coarse, napped finish and used as apparel by the poorer classes.

No one really knows exactly when rug making began. Rug weaving is a tradition that spans the centuries over a number of cultures. There are several references to the art of weaving found in ancient scriptures and classical writings. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that proves these references were to pile carpets and not simply to flat weaves (Kilims). On the evidence of fragments found in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian tombs, we know that various forms of flat weaving were well developed more than 4000 years ago. Other evidence suggests that weaving of pile rugs existed in the Middle East and other parts of central, northwest, and eastern Asia long before 2000 BC. It is certain however, that Asia was the first continent to produce rugs and that it was definitely the nomadic wanderers who created them.

The rearing of sheep, the prime source of carpet wool, is a traditional nomad occupation. Add to this the necessity of thick coverings for people having to endure extreme cold and it is likely the craft of weaving developed to replace the use of rough animal skins for warmth. Some prehistoric people may have used animal skins as floor coverings in their caves or huts. After people learned to weave, they made floor mats from grasses and other plant materials. In 1947, Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko made a major discovery. He found what is now considered the oldest rug in existence. This earliest known fabric made with pile, referred to as the Pazyryk rug, was discovered frozen in a Scythian burial mound in southern Siberia dating from the 5th century BC. It incorporated the Ghiordes (Turkish) knot and had an average of 200 knots per square inch. This rug resembles later Oriental rugs.

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