LANGLEY — In 1949 the world was moving at a fiery pace.
The Soviets detonated their first A-bomb, China became the communist “People’s Republic of China” and Boeing’s “Stratocruiser” made its first commercial flight when Pan Am began roundtrips between San Francisco and Honolulu.
That same year, far away from the milestones of civilization and in the iciest parts of the Altai Mountains of Siberia, two archeologists pulled a ball of ice out of the ground.
The chunk of frozen earth, however, was a time capsule. It held a 4th century B.C. carpet and the discovery pushed back the origins of pile-carpet weaving 2,000 years.
A replica of that rug, the “Pazyryk carpet,” is currently on display at Music for the Eyes on First Street in Langley.
The newly woven rug was commissioned from Magic Knots of Baku, Azerbaijan, by the owners of the island shop to be used in their carpet-and-textile education talks around the region.
The replica, which took three weavers four months to complete, was the focus of a recent presentation given by Fred Lundahl, co-owner of Music for the Eyes, for the Whidbey Island Weavers Guild.
Lundahl and his wife, Sharon, are retired diplomats of 35 years whose work took them all over the world.
“Our interest in old textiles and rugs developed out of this historical interest in the peoples of the regions we served in and their personal lives, both past and present,” said Fred Lundahl.
Sharon Lundahl said all the mysteries surrounding the Pazyryk artifact are not yet solved.
“What’s amazing is to think that people more than 2,000 years ago were that sophisticated,” Sharon Lundahl said. She pointed to an area of the carpet in which a bright border of elk-like creatures are illustrated in perfect detail.
“The elk pictured in the carpet were perhaps not really elk but some other distinct species.”
The jury is still out on whether the weavers of the famous carpet were Turkish, Iranian or perhaps some other clan that made their way through the punishing terrain of Siberia.
They could have possibly been slaves to the Scythians, a nation of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists thought to be from areas around ancient Iran.
It was in the grave of a Scythian chieftain in Pazyryk, Siberia, where the carpet was unearthed by the Russian archeologists. There — among a rich trove of burial goods — was the astonishingly detailed, virtually complete carpet frozen in a ball of ice.
Since its discovery, the artifact has been on display behind thick glass in a refrigerated case at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Although the carpet has been researched by textile scholars throughout the world for decades, its origins remain a mystery.
The questions are many. Who made it? Where was it made? How did it end up in a grave in Siberia?
Answers to those questions may enlighten other areas of study.
“The ebb and flow of history can be often viewed by the development of
industries such as rug weaving in one part of the world or another,” Fred Lundahl said. “This makes the discovery of the 400-500 BC Pazyryk carpet especially significant.”
The Pazyryk carpet is finely woven, short piled and made of what is now known as “Turkish knots” with an astounding density of 250 knots per square inch. The usual textiles of the period and found in graves of that region were made of felt and leather.
Its design elements also provide clues as to the carpet’s origins, such as the double series of cross designs which also show up in the stone floor of an 8th century B.C. palace in Mesopotamia. The outer border of detailed horses, horsemen and grooms is similar to carvings made around the 4th century B.C. in Persia.
And then there is that band of what look like elk, an animal native to Siberia but not the Middle East.
Other questions arise about the wool fibers and dyes used in the piece, and scientists are continually making discoveries which they hope will bring them closer to the carpet’s origins.
It seems the whole world is flummoxed by the ancient treasure. And the fact that its next oldest found relative was made 2,000 years later makes the mystery even more enticing.
Author Bevis Longstreth even wrote a novel based on the Pazyryck carpet entitled “Spindle and Bow.”
The story goes that Rachel, a young Sardian Jew, is a weaver of consummate skill in the royal workshop of Cyrus the Younger. Amid the opulence of the Sardian Court the young woman marries a visiting Scythian chieftain with whom she returns to the Central Asian steppes where she continues her weaving and producing wonderful carpets.
Given that the two bodies in whose grave the carpet was found were a man of Indo-European stock, such as were the Scythians, and a Caucasian woman, such as are the Turkish, the romantic version put forth by the novel is easy to imagine.
Now islanders have the opportunity to brush a hand across the expertly made replica of the famous Pazyryck carpet and have the romance and the intrigue of history at their fingertips.
“The mystery of who made this beautiful carpet and where was it woven may never be solved,” Fred Lundahl said.
“But its existence tells us that globalization, including trade and the migration of people, was alive and well much earlier in ancient times than we earlier believed. This is why this carpet is important to all of us.”
Music for the Eyes is located at 314 First St. in Langley. For more info call 221-8197 or visit www.musicfortheeyes.com.
Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.