Archive for May, 2010

Carbon Dating for Andean Textiles

Posted in Uncategorized on May 23, 2010 by rjohn

On February 27, 2010, Amy Gould and Matthew Polk

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on “Carbon Dating for Andean Textiles.”

Maryclaire Ramsey, the CEO of The Textile Museum, introduced Amy and Matthew,

saying that

Note: We will say a little more about this last item at the end of this virtual version of their program.

Amy began with “A Short History of Andean Textiles.”

She started with the first Andean textile that she and Matthew bought together.

She described this piece as a painted and resist-dyed Chancay textile with interlocking images that seem to have anticipated MC Escher by almost 1,000 years.

Amy then sketched Andean textile history with a few examples making the point that we can often determine the age of a textile quite accurately simply by looking at the design.

Her first piece was from the  Chavin culture (1,000 to 400 B.C.).

The menacing faces, fangs and claws of Chavin art are unmistakable and when we see them we can say with confidence that the textile is amongst the very earliest decorative Andean textiles.  Some Chavin images can be quite unsettling  as in the  piece above.  It is carbon dated to about 500 B.C.

On the South Coast of Peru Paracas culture followed Chavin and produced textiles with distinctive surreal floating figures.

As we look at the other-worldly “floating shamans” in this  Paracas textile, it is easy to start believing in Aliens.  Or, at least that these people had access to some very potent drugs.  Yet this powerful and distinctive style tells us both how old the piece is and where it is from.   This textile is carbon dated to about 50 B.C.

Moving into the Common Era we have  the piece below.

The “proliferous” style graphically combines images of eyes and mouths to create figures within figures which places it in the proto Nasca era. This  piece is carbon dated to about 280 A.D.

A classic “temple step” design suggests the piece below is solidly in the Nasca period.  It is carbon dated to about 320 AD, only slightly later than the previous piece .

Next we have the “jagged edged serpents and jaguars” of the Moche, carbon dated to about 820 AD.

The “war-like abstractions” of the Huari are instantly recognizable in the “Skull” tunic below and of about the same age as the Moche piece above.

The Chancay civilization returns us to graphic drug-induced visions as in this powerful painted piece below, estimated to have been woven around 1000 AD.

Amy, now drew attention to a ceremonial ensemble from the Chimu civilization.

The ghostly elegance of these finely woven gauze pieces is uniquely Chimu and places these pieces in the range of 1200 to 1400 A.D.

The Inca are the last of the pre-conquest civilizations and brought “corporate uniformity” and incredibly fine tapestry weave to the design of their garments.

This classic Inca “Checkerboard” tunic is an example of what was being worn by high ranking Inca’s at the time of the conquest.  We can be highly confident that it dates to the first half of the 16th century.

However, design and technique are often not enough to tell us much about the age of a textile.  Below are two textiles, both tie dyed and both with elements that make them tough to pigeon hole.   One might think they are of similar age, but which one is really older?

The piece above has colors that could be identified as Nasca or Huari.   It has been carbon dated to about 650 AD.

The second piece is a four color tie-dye loosely woven in the Nasca style.  But this one has been carbon dated to 450 B.C more than 1,000 years older than the first tie-dyed piece.

Amy concluded her part of the presentation with the observation that while graphic design and analysis of technique have helped build a general framework for the Andean textile time-line, carbon dating is often needed to correctly place individual pieces within that framework.

Amy then introduced her husband, Matthew Polk, to speak about the radio-carbon-dating technique, especially as applied to a series of Aymara men’s tunics and women’s Iscayo’s in their collection. (See “Andean Textiles”, Hali #162 and “Valley of the Spirits”, Alan Kolata, 1996 for more information on the Aymara and their textiles.)

Amy and Matthew had brought seven Andean textiles, 5 Tunics and 2 Iscayo’s (womans mantle) They were arrayed (with an ID number on each one) on forms in the front of the room.

Matthew said that all the pieces were warp faced Andean textiles, believed to be Aymara or Aymara-related and all had been carbon dated.

The Aymara, he said, are people who, to this day, live at very high altitudes mainly on the Andean Altiplano that includes parts of Peru, Bolivia and Chile.  The origins of the Aymara are not known, but they were known to be troublesome to the Inca who forcibly  resettled many Aymara to make them  easier to control.

The Aymara practiced a form of ancestor worship which involved many rituals which may seem quite odd to us.  The desiccated remains of ancestors were periodically disinterred and dressed up in carefully preserved heirloom textiles for the purpose of advising the living.  The Spanish discouraged such practices as they converted the indigenous population to Catholicism.   But many of the rituals continue to be practiced amongst the reclusive Aymara to this day.   The tradition of heirloom textiles has come to take the place of digging up dead ancestors and the pieces preserved in many villages may be of surprising antiquity.

Matthew  noted that the care and reverence applied in the making of these apparently simple textiles is quite remarkable and not immediately apparent.

For example, in completing the piece the warps are never cut off the looms.  Instead the piece is carefully removed from the loom with the warp loops intact and painstakingly finished off-loom to create a complete textile which is in effect a single continuous sacred piece of thread.

The sophistication and mastery of the art are also evident in the subtle techniques employed.  Alternating s and z spun warps make monochromatic fields come alive without ever introducing a change of color.

The development of the Aymara aesthetic was also influenced by the Spanish.   The emergence of large scale silver mining in Bolivia in the early 17th century led the Aymara to follow the Spanish custom of including  silver threads in their finest garments.

Matthew’s presentation was participative.

He said he would try to give us a good short course understanding of the radiocarbon dating technique and would discuss in detail the radiocarbon results obtained for these seven textiles.  He also equipped the members of the audience with a matrix form with which to make their own rank-order estimates of their relative ages.

He pointed out that this is not a false task.

That “while Andean decorative textiles span over 3,ooo years…the powerful and distinct iconography associated with each of the Andean civilizations is often enough to tell us to which civilization a textile belongs and approximately how old it is.”

And “when design alone is not enough, technique and materials can often place a piece in time.”

So he invited us to estimate, based on whatever indicators we could employ, the relative age of each of these seven Aymara textiles.

The complexity of this task soon became clear and Matthew quickly suggested a simpler but no less daunting challenge.

The new task was to identify (only) which of these pieces seemed oldest to us.   (Many of those who arrived early had had an opportunity to handle these pieces and examine them closely before the presentation.) Matthew then facilitated our choices by working through the pieces one at a time and asking for a show of hands for those who thought that piece might be the oldest of the group.

In each case he:

1)  provided some general information about the piece such as likely geographical origin, where collected if known, etc.

2) commented on some of its visible  physical and tactile characteristics such as design, weaving techniques and handle.

3)  looked to see how many in the audience felt that particular piece was the oldest.


You can test your own sense of  which of these pieces seems oldest to you, by taking a sheet of paper and numbering from 1 to 7 and then taking a few notes on what follows, before making your own choice. (You will also get a chance to look back once Matthew’s more conventional review of them has been completed.)

I am going to give you several images of each piece, plus Matthew’s indications about it.

Piece #1 was on the far left and looked like this.

Matthew said that this is a “green-gray-blue Iscayito – a woman’s outer garment woven in two parts.  Somewhat loosely spun yarns and a nice floppy handle”

Here are some additional images of textile #1.  The first, below, is how it looked on the form.

Here are some closer details of it.

Tunic #2 is the one below.

Matthew said that number 2 is a “frayed striped man’s tunic (really old looking) with some small blue supplementary yarns said to indicate the family ownership.”.

Here is how it looked on the form.

And again some closer details of it.

Tunic #3 was the one below.

Matthew describe this piece as “a pink and black striped man’s tunic collected in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicacca in the mid 1970’s.”  He said “the stains are from chicha, an indigenous beer-like drink that has been produced at least since Inca times.” “tone on tone stripes within the pink areas are created by alternate groups of z and s spun warps.  Very finely spun yarns.”

Here are some additional views of tunic 3.

Tunic #4 looked like this.

Matthew described this piece as “a very fine multi-colored striped man’s tunic collected in Bolivia, 1984.”

Here is how it looked on the form.

And again, some additional detail images.

Below is an Isacayo #5 in this series.

Matthew described this piece as “a pink-brown woman’s iscayo – silver threads are included at the edge and in the center.” “very finely spun and woven, a wonderful patina of age and surprisingly light, kashmir-like handle.”

Here is how #5 looked on the form.

And some closer detail images.

Tunic #6 looked like this.

Matthew said that this is a “black-violet tunic/poncho, woven in two parts, sides joined only at the lower corners.” He commented specifically that what appears to be a solid black field is in reality a variegated violet.

Here is how it looked on the form.

Here are some closer details in which I was trying to capture some of the purple highlights in this piece.

My monitor shows a purple cast in the image above.

I don’t think I see them in this second detail.

Matthew said that the purple aspects of this piece are often only visible under the type of full sunlight found in the Andean highlands and he took this piece outside after the program to let it be seen in that light.

I took four additional images of piece 6 outside.

Here they are below, without intervening comment.

On my monitor, the purple cast of piece #6 IS enhanced by the bright natural light.

Tunic #7 looked like this.

Matthew gave this description: “A red-blue-green striped man’s tunic woven in two parts, possibly archeological but in virtually perfect condition.”  He commented on how the adjacent green and blue stripes are so close in hue that they trick the eye into seeing a third color.  (Look at the detail images below to see the blue and green next to each other then look back at the full scale image to see this illusion.)

Here is how tunic #7 looked on the form.

And here are some additional detail images of it.

This ended Matthew’s review of the seven pieces in terms of more traditional indicators of age.

He now asked the audience to look back over the seven examples and to pick by show of hands the one they thought was oldest.

Note: If you are interested in “playing” this game, this is the point at which you should (without looking ahead) make your own selection.

Because you can look back and have close-up images, you are, in fact, more favorably placed to use conventional indicators of age than were those in the audience.

Now not nearly everyone responded to Matthew’s “which seems oldest of these seven pieces?” task, but here is the result of those who did:

Now that he had our likely ignorance captured, Matthew turned to explain a bit about carbon dating and some of the questions that frequently surround it.

He said that radiocarbon dating was invented in the 1940s, but that only since the early 1990s has it been possible to use it with small samples.  This has increased its usefulness greatly.

The scientific concepts underlying radiocarbon dating go something like this:

BUT, in fact the “miracle” is not exactly what we have hoped for.  Matthew provided the slide above again with notations on the right side about what actually is the case.

This leads some, Matthew said, to ask whether carbon dating is, in fact, completely useless.

Matthew said that although carbon dating does not necessarily deliver the precise indisputable results we might want, the results are still very helpful.  He then explained what is behind the results that the labs deliver.

In spite of the many possible errors in radiocarbon dating we can get useful results by matching the c-14 results we get from our sample to a calibration curve.  The calibration curve is a collection of c-14 results from samples where we already know the age.  Tree ring samples alone have given us a calibration curve  that extends back 10,000 years.  And, the accuracy of this calibration curve is being constantly refined.

In addition, modern AMS radiocarbon dating can be done with less than 10 mg of material which is more than 50 times less that what was required 25 years ago.

In general, the older the sample the more useful the c14 method is in giving an indication of age.    And, the method is absolutely limited to samples older than 1950 due to the changes in atmospheric carbon isotopes produced by atomic bomb testing after that date.

As we’ll discuss in a moment, C-14 testing often produces ambiguous results because the results from our sample may match the calibration curve in several places.  However, these results may also be useful when combined with more traditional observation based methods.  I’ll give an example of this in a moment.

With this background on carbon dating and its limitations, Matthew described how they use it.  He said that there are a number of labs that do carbon dating and that he and Amy have some that they think provide particularly accurate and reliable results.  He said that it costs about $400 now to get a sample from a textile carbon dated and that this cost is usually achieved by submitting a number of samples together.

So you send your sample(s) off and when the testing has been completed this is what you get back.

Let’s look at this report on a more readable basis.  First, an overall look at the report in the image below (some print too small to read).

But you CAN see that the report has two main parts.

At the top on the left there is an underlined title and a blue arrow that points to a result for the “Conventional Radiocarbon Age” of this piece.  The arrow points to the actual values reported.

In the lower part of this report is a statement on the left indicating that these are the “calibrated results.”  Two arrows point right, one to the numerical “calibrated results,” and the other to a graphic presentation of them.

Here, below, is a slightly larger version of this same report.

Before we try to understand what these results actually mean, here’s an even closer view of the “conventional radiocarbon age” reported at the form’s upper part.

You can see that this part of the report indicates that the “conventional radiocarbon age” (CRA)  for piece NZA 325 15 is 420 plus or minus 25 years BP.

This means that if we ignore all those variations and possible errors in the c14 curve the conventional radiocarbon age or CRA would be 420 years +/- 25 before present (BP).  The “present” is always defined as 1950.   So, the uncalibrated age for this piece is 1950 minus 420 = 1530 AD +/- 25.

Now to the lower part of the report.  Note the two blue arrows originate (you can see it in the overall image above) in the designation “calibrated results.”

Here is a closer image of the bottom part of this report with the two arrows.

The top arrow points to a highlighted result indicating that, for this same sample, the “calibrated” result is a “91.4% confidence interval from 1431 AD to 1496 AD.”

The bottom arrow points to the graphing of that result clustering around the year 1450 AD.  What this means is that with a 91.4% probability the age of this piece is within the shaded area from 1431 AD to 1496 AD.  Notice that this is about 100 years older than the uncalibrated age.   The calibrated age is always more accurate than the CRA.   In this case the calibrated age falls within a fairly narrow range and shows that this particular Aymara piece is pre-conquest.

BUT, Matthew cautioned, we are not always so lucky with our results.  He gave the following example.

Now you can’t read much of the two reports below, but that’s not necessary here.  Just compare the character of the two graphic results at the bottom.

Notice, as the labeling says, that the one on the left is the “lucky” report, since a date within a narrow range is indicated.  But the report on the right is decidedly unlucky, since any date all along the shaded area is possible.

Now, having armed us for understanding radiocarbon dating a bit, Matthew moved back to the seven Aymara pieces.

He reminded us of the results of our conventional estimates of which of these seven tunics was oldest,

then like a good “Academy Awards” presenter, he opened the “envelope” to show the ages that radiocarbon dating has actually assigned to these seven pieces.

It turns out that tunic 6, the black-purple one is the oldest,

with a calibrated 94% probability of being between 966 AD and 1210 AD, even older than pieces 1, 4 and 7 each of which are dated before 1500 A.D.

And five of those in the audience who made estimates DID chose #6 as the oldest of these tunics.

The largest number in the audience (8) selected tunic #3 as the oldest,

However, it turns out that this is the second youngest of the group, having calibrated results that waver between “before 1700” and “before 1800.”

No one in the audience thought pieces 1 or 2 were the oldest. The frayed tunic #2 turns out to be quite respectably old with a calibrated 70% probability between 1515 and 1599 AD and a 25% probability between 1618 and 1649 AD.  But #1, the gray green Iscayo is the second oldest of the group with a calibrated 95% probability range from 1409 to 1480 AD.

This exercise was great fun.  Matthew thanked everyone for being  good sports and observed that the task was very difficult.  Few people are familiar with Aymara material and the styles and techniques of their textiles have  not changed much in a thousand years.  However this points out how we can use radiocarbon dating in difficult situations to “second guess” the conclusions that we might reach from conventional indicators and human intuition.

In particular, Matthew said, this exercise suggests some conclusions:

Matthew had one last wrinkle about their experience with carbon dating to share with us.

He put up these two reports and asked whether could they be for the same piece?

Here are somewhat larger images of these two reports.

Here is a larger image the report on the left.  Look down at the graph at the bottom.

You can see that this report provides a carbon dating age pretty close to 1450 AD.

Now here is the carbon dating report on the right above.  Again, look down at the graph.

These results spread a little more, but the calibrated age is between 118o AD and 1262 AD, a result that diverges by 200-300 years from those of the report on the left.

Well, Matthew said, it turns out that these two reports are, in fact, from samples taken from a single piece.  This one.

Here are some additional images (some closer) of this tunic.

Looking for possible explanations of this divergent carbon dating result on this piece, one naturally gravitates toward its center patch.

And, in fact, one tested sample was taken from this patch and the other was taken from elsewhere in the tunic.  The sample from the patch tested considerably older.

Matthew gave the following explanation:

So, in this case when our human intuition told us something was not right carbon dating allowed us to uncover the true story.

Amy and Matthew then took questions

and brought their session to an end with one last indication.

They said that they have created “The Historic Textile Research Foundation (HTRF) dedicated to building an on-line database of radiocarbon dated textiles.

HTRF is a 501-c3 foundation.  Its long-term goal is to build a database of several thousand dated textiles for use by scholars, collectors or anyone interested in the topic.

They indicated that if anyone has any radiocarbon dated textiles, they would love to be able to publish your data in the HTRF database.  If you have data you would like to share please contact:

Matthew Polk

Amy Gould

Historic Textile Research Foundation

PO Box 226

Gibson Island, MD 21056


Amy and Matthew adjourned their session and the fulsome crowd surged forward.

Matthew’s sister Capie, a docent at the TM, models the pink and silver thread Iscayo.  (see below)

I want to thank Amy and Matthew for permitting me to construct this virtual version of their very informative and enjoyable RTAM session.  Thanks to them also for the considerable technical and editorial assistance they provided after their session.

My thanks, additionally, to Amy Rispin for another excellent set of notes.

Amy (Gould) and Matthew have provided carbon dating reports on the seven tunics in their program.  I have included them here after my signature below without further comment.

I hope you have enjoyed this solidly grounded, interesting session in this virtual version.


R. John Howe

Carbon dating reports below:


Report on Gary Green Iscayo # 1

Report on Frayed Striped Tunic #2

Report on Pink and Black Striped Tunic #3

Report on Multi-Colored Striped Tunic #4

Report on Pink and Silver Thread Iscayo #5

Report on Black-Violet Tunic #6

Report on Red, Blue-Green and Natural Striped Tunic #7


“Potpourri”: by Michael Seidman and Wendel Swan

Posted in Seidman, Michael, Swan, Wendel on May 10, 2010 by rjohn

On February 20, 2010, Michael Seidman (right) and Wendel Swan (left)

conducted a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning at The Textile Museum here in Washington, D.C. entitled “Potpourri.”

Maryclaire Ramsey, The Textile Museum’s Chief Executive Officer, (the photo I took of her in the room did not turn out),

introduced them.

Since they are familiar figures on these pages and in the TM “rug morning” programs, I will not give the full-faced version of what Maryclaire said.

Michael is a molecular biologist, actively engaged in research.  He and his wife have collected seriously for a number of years.  Wendel is trained as an attorney, but has been engaged in various facets of real estate and is currently an M+A intermediary.  He is a figure in the international rug world and has collected with a visible passion since the late sixties.  He is currently very active in identifying, recruiting and mounting interesting, useful RTAM programs.

Both Michael and Wendel are Museum Trustees.

Now programs with the “Potpourri” title have been given at the TM for years.  The usual practice has been to press this term in the direction of “the speaker will  bring a variety of pieces and the audience is invited to do so, too — no holds barred.”

But the announcement for the version Michael and Wendel conducted said something about “what you always wanted to know,” which seemed to suggest that attendees should mostly bring textiles about which they had questions.

But in the session itself (while everything brought in was examined and commented on)

Michael and Wendel had themselves brought items that focused attention on some particular sets of similar textiles.

These two aspects of their treatment of “potpourri” made me go look the word up again, as we prepared this virtual version of their program.

One dictionary said that “potpourri” refers to “a combination of various incongruous elements.”  Another, perhaps somewhat more authoritative, said more leniently that “potpourri” denotes “an unusual and interesting mixture of things.”

The session that Michael and Wendel conducted was not devoted to “incongruous elements.”  It did seem to meet the “unusual and interesting mixture” test.

But one had the sense that they were a little dissatisfied with the possibility that the particular “potpourri” that might emerge from that label, uncued, could be a shade too unstructured for their taste, and to that end they had designed an improved version, not  dependent on complete serendipity.

Anyway, this program was more shaped and focused in some areas  than the RTAM “potpourri” programs I have attended in the past.

The program began by showing pieces that the audience brought in and the first was the piece below.


Michael said that this pile piece

is a multi-niche, “prayer” design woven in Turkey in about 1900.  He said that the pile and foundation seem to be of mercerized cotton, sometimes used to mimic silk.

It is too small to be used as a prayer rug with devotees kneeling side-by-side in its niches.

The piece has small images of the Haghia Sophia inside some of its end “lappet” devices.

The second piece moved sharply in a different direction.


It was woven in four sections on a narrow loom and then sewn together to produce this larger format.

There were guesses in the room that this piece might have been woven in north Africa, but its owner said that it was made by Pomaks, a group of Turks who speak Bulgarian (there is a Pomak minority in Bulgaria, too).

He said that such pieces have begun to appear in the market only recently and estimated that this one is about 70 years old.

There were questions from the audience about whether this piece is warp-faced as are many Persian jijims which seem similar.

The owner indicated that the weave is a kind of twill.

The third piece was this NW Persian cargo bag-type “mafrash.”


This piece was complete and assembled.

It is completely woven in varieties of kilim.

It exhibits some bright colors that suggest that it was woven in the first half of the 20th century.

The next piece was a single side panel from a similar mafrash bag.


This time the weave is sumak.

It was estimated to have been woven, probably by Shahsavan, in the last quarter of the 19th Century, although somewhat earlier dates are often given for similar pieces.  Wendel commented that it is one of the most common for mafrash side panels, but that it is quite fine and has excellent colors.

The next piece was a carrier bag.


The thinking in the room is that it was likely by the Char Mahal or perhaps by the Qashqai.  It was woven about 1960-70 and features a leather handle and trim.

Jenny Housego shows a very similar piece (leather handle and trim included) as Plate 107 in her “Tribal Rugs,” and gives a similar south Persian attribution.

The next piece was a contemporary Central Asian felt.


There was conversation in the room about the abortive-seeming bottom border and what this might indicate about intended use.

Here are two closer looks.

The colors are from synthetic dyes.

A seventh piece was potentially a puzzler.


Michael and Wendel said that this is not a contemporary piece and that it could be Caucasian.  It is done in a coarse sumak weave.

What can it be?  It has a shape and size similar to that of a Baluch “balisht” or a Kyrgyz “chavadan,” but is clearly neither of these.  Did some other folks make similar bags?

Its  odd border treatment likely provides some hint of the format to which it belongs.

Here are some closer looks at various details of this piece.

Michael and Wendel indicated that this piece is one front chest tab that was part of a horsecover.

In his book “Oriental Carpets,” Jon Thompson provides an example of a similar horse cover in use.  Thompson’s example is Qashqai.

So to see this piece in its likely “in use” orientation, it needs to be turned to a position something like this.

This is how it would have appeared if it is the left front tab on such a horse cover.

Pieces like this can both puzzle and lead to strange attributions when they are encountered.

The next piece was another but smaller cargo-type mafrash side panel.


It features a parade of “animal-forms.”

It was attributed to NW Persia or the Caucasus.  The weave is sumac.

The next piece was the rug below.


The owner believes that this rug looks Caucasian (mainly because of the reciprocal trefoil border, the end finishes and the selvedges), but it is loosely woven and has cotton wefts.

Here are some closer details of it.

Notice darkish warps.

Michael and Wendel thought that it could be either a Persian tribal piece or a primitive Shirvan.  If it is from the Shirvan area, Wendel noted, the weaver was imitating a South Persian gabbeh.

The next piece was a Shirvan.


Wendel said that this piece is classically Shirvan in structure and design and is probably earlier than most Shirvans that we see.  It is prototypical Shirvan because of its

narrow stripes in the field

and a so-called “crab” border.

It is quite fine, even for a Shirvan, with 140 knots per square inch.  There may be some camel hair in it.

The next two pieces provided a seemingly unlikely comparison.

First, was an Afshar pile khorjin face with the distinctive “tulip” design.


Here are a couple of closer details.

This design is seen in very impressive rug versions.

The other piece in this unlikely “pair” was the one below.


This is a carriage cushion cover (called an agedyna) embroidered in southern Sweden about 1825.  It is part of Wendel’s collection of Swedish folk weavings.

Again, some closer details.

Wendel said that the similarities in color usage and design, including, the cruciform devices within a lattice, and the use of tulips, is remarkable.

The thirteenth piece was the one below.


It is a Baluch khorjin face.

The two devices in its field echo Turkmen turreted ‘Salor’ gul usages.

Here are two details of its border systems.

Michael and Wendel said that it has very nice wool.

The fourteenth piece was a Qashqai khorgin face.


Here are two closer details of it.

The colors of its borders give it an overall lighter look than many such Qashqai khorjins exhibit.

The next piece was the one below.


It is a Jaff Kurd bag.

Two closer looks.

The narrow checker board “elem” at the bottom provides interest.

Piece sixteen was also a small pile bag.


It’s owner thought that it had been woven by “Bulgarian” weavers. (Notice the unusual color change in the side borders.)

Michael and Wendel noted that it has a cotton foundation and estimated that is was woven about 1930.  They suggested that it could be Persian, perhaps Luri.

The next piece was the pile rug below.


This is a piece that some would guess might be a Saruk.

Michael and Wendel said that a closer look at its structure indicates that it is a Bijar (of a type usually referred to int the trade as a “Kurd Bijar”), using Saruk motifs.

It has some nice animals (deer?) at the “top” of its medallion.  I have flipped the image below so that you can see the animals right side up.

Animal even closer in the image below.

There is calligraphy at its other end, but I didn’t get it close-up.

The next piece was an unusual, “rare” is probably not too strong, Turkman rug.  This is one of Wendel’s pieces.  He is not a Turkmen collector, but this appealed to him because if was so unusual.  Wendel is reluctant to use the word “unique” but he hasn’t seen anything else like this.  Turkmen experts who have seen it say that it is clearly from before 1850 and might be 18th Century.


This is the sort of piece that we used to call “Ersari,” but about which “Middle Amu Dyra” is the current recommended description.

Despite a seeming fragmented character,

it is “complete” in the sense that its very narrow borders

are visible and intact in areas on all four sides.

There are traces of pile elem on both ends.

The next piece was held up by someone in the audience.


It was described in my notes as (ed: part of?) a bedspread.  It is crocheted.

A closer detail.

The next four pieces comprise  one of the small focused groupings I mentioned at the beginning.  This is a grouping Wendel assembled of pieces thought to contain some camel hair.

“Wool” is usually said to be composed of three distinctive fibers: wool, hair and kemp.

But I think Wendel’s reference here is to “camel wool.”  Camel wool, Eiland says, is “made up of extremely fine fibers, and it is distinguished from sheep’s wool mainly by a characteristic scale pattern and by the distribution of pigment granules.”  Both of these are visible only by microscope.

This makes Eiland suspicious of claims of “camel hair or wool” in rugs without microscopic test.

Nevertheless, there are many who believe that there are tactile and visual indicators of “camel’s wool” that often permit its detection without resorting to microscopic.  I think Wendel is likely one of these.

And there often seems something to it.  For example, it is often held that “camel’s wool” is detectably “softer” than sheep’s wool that may surround it (this despite it being known that the softness of sheep’s wool varies widely even that taken from a single sheep).  It is also held that “camel’s wool” will often have a “fuzzy” appearance in relation to surrounding sheep’s wool.

What follows is the kind of thing that can make a claim of non-microscopic identification of camel’s wool plausible.

A few years ago a Turkmen lady I met here in DC (she is a scholar and lives in Turkmenistan) gave me a contemporary plied strand of what seemed like wool.  She said that one of the strands, the tan one, was “camel’s wool.”  Here is that strand.

And here is a closer look at one end section of it.

This plied piece is compose of five differently colored strands.  There are black, white, orange, red and tan strands plied together.

I think you can see that in the braided areas there is visible fuzziness.  More the character of the braid used has the effect of placing the tan sections in a kind of line along the cord.  I have just looked at this braided strand with a magnifying glass and can testify that the fuzziness seems entirely to emerge from the tan strand areas alone.

I have also felt the individual strands at the ends of the plied cord where they can be felt individually and can testify that the tan strand IS very much softer than the other four.

Now I do and say all this, not to doubt the need for Eiland’s caution, but to show the plausibility of these two non-microscopic tests to some.

Wendel pointed out that there are that there are two kinds of camel hair.  One is the outer, coarse layer that is usually called guard hair and the second is the fine, soft undercoat.  The latter lacks the scales of sheep’s wool and therefor does not spin as tightly.  This accounts for the obvious fuzzy appearance that we sometimes see on the backs of rugs.  Camel wool most commonly comes from the Bactrian, or two-humped camel.  Camel hair can be sheared or it can be plucked or gathered from the ground during moulting season.

Anyway, I think it is such non-microscopic indicators that Wendel is relying on when he suggests that each of the following pieces likely have some “camel wool” in some areas.

Wendel brought in this minimalist prayer rug with a “ghostly” mihrab.  He indicated that it could be late 19th or early 20th Century, but fixing a date is very difficult because it is of an extremely rare, perhaps unique, design.


This piece is austere in the extreme, with a Persianate border surrounding a tan field.

There are six small animal forms (probably goats) along both sides of the field.

And the “ghostly” niche-like device at the top.

Wendel believes that the ground of the field of this piece contains camel hair.

A second piece has a similar coloration but is actually very different.


Experienced folks have suggested that this is a leg wrapping (a “puttee”) used to protect the leg and possibly to keep debris out of one’s shoes or boots.  Puttees were a frequent item of 19th century military dress and may have been picked up primarily from such usages although the format is so simple and the need so obvious that it seems likely it existed in traditional societies before European contact.

This piece is decorated with twining and sumak at particular points

and with pile bands on both ends

(these pile bands are woven like Turkmen mixed technique tent bands, that is symmetric knots tied on alternate raised warps; the pile design is very faint on the back).

Wendel has since found the pair of this piece

and believes that the tan ground areas of both of them are of camel’s wool.

The seeming presence of camel wool also unpins the attribution of these two puttees to East Anatolia, where it is known to have been used.

Wendel brought in this third example – an unusual small, complete khorjin with what he believes may be a plain camel ground.

The colorful decoration is in sumak.  Notice the long connecting section and the absence of closure systems on the two bags.  Both of these features, as well as, what Wendel believes, is the presence of camel’s wool in the tan ground fabric, press this piece toward Eastern Persia and possibly to the Lurs.

One more piece thought to have some camel’s wool in it.

This is another piece that Wendel brought in.  He attributes it to the Shahsavan, based upon some the sinuous warps and what he fells is almost certainly camel hair used very sparingly.  The Shahsavan owned camels and used them for transport.  They were the most valuable of all the animals.

Wendel believes that some of the tan areas in it are likely camel’s wool.

The next piece examined was the one below.


It was felt that this piece might be Persian.

Here are some closer details of its field and border systems.

The next item of the morning was the coat below.


Here is a closer detail of what was called, in the room, its “piano-key” design.

In his book “Persian Flatweaves,” Parviz Tanavoli provides a photo of seven men wearing such coats.

The caption provides most of what we might want to know about such an item.  Wendel said that it is done in a fine and very tight slit tapestry that may even be water repellent.

Two kilims and a pile rug from Central Anatolia provided another area of seeming focus that Michael and Wendel had assembled.

The first of these was the kilim fragment below.


This piece is nearly a textbook example of the glorious use of color.  It is one of four known fragments from a larger whole kilim apparently divided between family members.

Here are two closer details of it.

The wonderfully clear, saturated colors of this piece are difficult to capture in photographs.  This piece is estimated as 18th century, conservatively ca 1800.

A second Central Anatolian kilim, below, was small, intact, and younger, with a dating  estimate of late 19th or early 20th century.  ca 1900.


The marked bluish-red in this piece is from “cochineal” and tempts one, perhaps, to think of the more eastern part of central Anatolia.

Here are some closer details.

The third piece in this central Anatolia grouping was this pile fragment below.


This is the top part of a long rug that may have had three large medallions.

Its design echo some kilim usages and

This piece has a good aubergine and a strong yellow that Wendel described as a “quercetin yellow,” which occurs in a variety of Anatolian plants.

Quercetin yellow, while readily available is not by itself very light fast.  Bohmer reports that its light fastness can be improved with alum or calcium salts mordants.  To be light fast, Wendel said that quercetin requires copper sulfate, which could have been introduced intentionally by the dyer or unintentionally by reason of imperfections in the tinning of copper pots.

Since this fragment is estimated to have been woven in the 18th century, an appropriate mordant has clearly been used and has made it possible for the strong yellow in this piece to retain its power.

The next piece was another kilim.


This piece was thought likely woven in southeast Turkey.

Here are some additional details of it.

One orange in this piece was suspected as a synthetic.

Piece number 30 in this Potpourri session was the one below.


Its owner, who had the earlier pieces that he thought were woven by Bulgarian-speaking Turks, thought that they may have woven this one too.

Here are closer details.

Notice that while this piece exhibits some suspicious colors it also has generous use of what appears to be a good aubergine.

Michael provided another area of focus, by presenting the following two embroideries.

The first of these was the Central Asian suzani panel below.


Again, the color is simply marvelous and the embroidery is of a very high quality.

Michael’s second embroidery example is much harder to convey with photographs.


He described it as Indian export embroidery,

made in a commercial workshop,

in about 1750,

for the English market.

He called particular attention to the fine needle work and the skillful way that close colors are used side-be-side, often without intervening outlining, to portray shading.

The next piece was a table block-printed table cloth.


This piece is also Indian with floral motif reminiscent of Mughal usages.

Another printed table cloth was also offered.


This circular piece was described as a “Tehran” table cloth.

Three pre-Columbian pieces comprised a final area of focus that Michael and Wendel had selected.

The first of these was a narrow band that Michael owns.


It has been mounted in a “back and fourth” mode for more accessible display and appreciation.

Here are some closer details.

This piece is estimate to have been woven in 500. A.D.

You can see its split tapestry structure clearly.

Wendel brought in two pre-Columbian pieces.

The first one you may have seen in my recent post, but it is unusual enough to examine again.  It is a narrow, “furred cord” from the Nazca culture in Peru and probably woven between 200 and 500 A.D.


This piece is made by tying a single row of knots (perhaps as long as 40 or 50 feet) on a pair of warps.  The colors are changed at intervals.  When the length estimated to be needed to make the furred cord desired the single row of pile is wound around a core.

The second pre-Columbian piece Wendel had brought was the one below.


This is a complete, intact headband decorated with typical iconography and is attributed to the Huari culture in Peru, circa 500 – 900 A.D.

It is decorated with god figures and birds.

Despite its age, it is in pristine condition.

Michael and Wendel took questions

and brought the session to an end.

The usual ensued.

One of the TM docents was wearing a striking sweater that she let me photograph.

She said that it is quite old.  Not all of the interesting textiles in the room are always on the board.

I want to thank Michael and Wendel for permitting me to construct this virtual version of their program and for some editorial assistance that involved.

Again, I owe Amy Rispin for a good set of notes.

I hope you have enjoyed have enjoyed this version of “Potpourri.”


R. John Howe