In 1949, Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko, working with a team of archaeologists in the Altai Mountains, discovered the oldest Oriental rug to date. The pile-knotted rug is referred to as the Pazyryk rug. It was found entombed in a frozen Scythian burial mound. Evidence suggests this mound dates back to the 5th century B.C.
The Pazyryk rug is special because it was preserved in a cave, covering a dead warhorse. Water filled the cave, probably due to the actions of grave robbers, and froze, preventing any of the degradation or decay that would normally occur.
The Pazyryk rug was woven using the Ghiordes knot. This knot is a symmetrical knot, which today is commonly referred to as the Turkish knot today. The rug had an average of 200 knots per square inch, and was constructed in a similar fashion as many later Oriental rugs. The central field is surrounded by major and minor borders, and contains rows of floral motifs. These follow a common theme within squares that are super imposed over a red ground. The squares themselves resemble some later Turkoman weavings, as they themselves are contained within a border of octagons.
The major borders contain figures and actions reminiscent of the time the rug was created. The first major border shows a procession of grand Elks. This border is then met with a minor border, filled with floral motifs. These floral motifs are strikingly similar to those found in the squares of the field, but with reverse coloring. Riders on horses fill the second major border. Each horse is wearing an intricately embroidered saddlecloth of the same design as the Pazyryk rug itself. This border is historically interesting, because it confirms the use of Oriental rugs as majestic saddle blankets for warhorses.
The origin of the Pazyryk rug is uncertain, and leaves many questions unanswered. The rug shows a mixture of many types of styles, including techniques common to motifs found in the Assyrian, Achaemenian, and Scythian regions of the East. The Achaemenian region is also known as the ancient Persian Empire. Due to the different motifs and influences, many believe it was woven by a nomadic tribe, one who would have had experiences with the many different cultures portrayed in the rug. The nomads are thought to have been from the region known today as Mongolia. It is believed they created the rug in eastern regions of their nomadic routine, and brought it with them westerwards.
The Pazyryk Rug is on permanent display in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.