Chodor Chuval partially fragmented; early Classic Period, pre-1800; ex-RK collection; published Tent Band Tent Bag, Plate 10, 1990
The Ertman gol found on Chodor carpets, and the Kepse gol found on Yomud ones, are rather quizzical pieces of Turkmen woven iconography.
RK has often wondered where they came from and how they developed.
This is a very pertinent question in Turkmen studies, one no other researcher has tackled.
In our opinion there is little doubt both of these iconographic assemblies -- and assemblies of various icon, amulets and talisman they are -- are not very old compared to other far more ancient gol like the Timurchin, Tauk Naska, Gulli-gol, torba gol, chuval gol (or ‘banner’gol as some call it), and others we could cite.
However, this discussion is not aimed at proving they are or aren’t as early but rather at trying determine how the Ertman gol, the more interesting of the two, came into being.
As background we must also mention our absolute belief in Moshkova’s theory the gol represented a proprietary Turkmen group identification.
Also, we credence her idea of live and dead gol.
That said, we are not so sure the way she went about applying these ideas is correct, or an issue more germane here: How long these criteria remained viable as the historic roots of Turkmen society were destroyed by the encroaching forces of foreign military excursion and economic commercialism.
Regardless, we are not going to open the already well-discussed pros and cons of Moshkova’s theories. Enough has been already written, and neither position -- Moshkova being right or wrong -- has been proved despite the convictions some authors have expressed.
We are, however, interested in how those two aspects of her theory, the gol as means of proprietary group identification and the live gol/dead gol paradigm, might have influenced the Ertman, and the Kepse gol’s generation.
Were they instrumental in the mechanics of design origination and transference that produced the Ertman?
Is the Ertman an accreted amalgam of several of the unknown earlier live turned dead gol? Or were they generated from a combination of the Tauk Nauska and Timurchin plus iconography drawn from any unknown equally archaic gol?
Presently these are unanswerable questions and ones we must leave on the sidelines until further evidence surfaces.
On far firmer ground, and pertinent to our discussion, would be to dissect the Ertman gol iconography to illustrate its constituent parts.
Before doing so we need to mention there are a number of versions with subtle, and not so subtle, differences.
For argument’s sake we are only interested in what we consider to be the earliest known, one we believe closest to how it might have originally appeared.
Because none appear to be earlier, we will deem the one illustrated above, and again below, the prototype of the group by default.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the Ertman is its rather strange stepped gol outline that forms a parallelogram and not the lobed octagon, stepped octagon, or perfectly shaped octagon all other Turkmen gol display. Well, all other except the Kepse, this being another important aspect they share.
This difference, the Ertman’s stepped- parallelogram outline, is further accentuated by the unique surrounding vertical trellis of ‘lightning bolts’ and, less unique but highly unusual, a set-up where the major and minor gol are virtually the same size.
These design components are only seen in the earliest Ertman versions and rarely if ever in later examples.
Taken together, these are major differences from other gol (except the rarely seen double chuval gol chuvals and, again, the Kepse).
In our viewpoint this definitely implies the Ertman has had either a completely different genesis or it is a later addition to the Turkmen iconographic vocabulary.
RK tends to believe the latter is the case, an idea supported by the fact Chodor weavers used the Tauk Nauska and chuval, or banner gol, far, far more often.
But since the Ertman is so distinctive it, and not they, is most often associated with Chodor weaving.
Another piece of the puzzle is the reality only the Chodor used the Ertman, and while much later, degenerate, versions do appear in certain non-Turkmen group weavings, like the Chub Bash, this has little bearing.
Because none of these non-Turkmen Ertman gol weavings are nearly as old as those of the Chodor, and therefore are surely derivative copy.
OK, let’s now examine what is going on inside the Ertman to try and explain how it came into being.
The first and probably easiest to recognize, at least in the early examples like the chuval above, are the four animals, actually two pair of birds.
In the example above they are one of only two icon within the gol, another aspect we see substantiating this weaving is earlier than others.
The lack of ancillary iconography is surely not the case with almost all other examples, as the detail below from what is considered by many collectors and Turkmen rug experts as the best example of Chodor Ertman weaving shows.
Chodor large format torba(LFT); late Classic Period, circa 1800/early 19th century and not in our opinion 18th century as it has been dated elsewhere; formerly Hecksher Collection then donated to the deYoung Museum, San Francisco
Comparing these Ertman gol, the major difference is the torba version is clearly an “bird (animal) tree” type, while the chuval omits the tree and in its place stands a tall double-ended anthropomorphic “stick-figure”.
Side by side comparison of the two Chodor Ertman gol weavings
We are not going the debate, which is “correct”, but unilaterally deem the chuval version the prototype, as the torba appears extremely contrived vs its natural simplicity. We will mention other reasons.
One being this complex icon, two animal flanking a human figure, is far earlier than the subsequent “animal tree” version, as proven in the prehistoric archaeological record of the Near East.
Leaving that fact aside, both weavings show well-articulated birds – head, (head crest on the torba) and tail feathers -- features lost in almost all later versions. RK needs to mention our disbelief the presence of the head crest implies antiquity, as a number of later examples of other Turkmen group weavings sport this feature.
But it’s the clarity of the bird’s representation, the presence of tail-feathers and, much more important to this discussion, the type of base on which the birds sit as having greater significance in establishing an Ertman gol’s age.
In the two early examples above those bases are actually a series of small square boxes, each with a dot in the center.
Another easily overlooked element, and one only present in the chuval version, is the negative space double arrowhead formed horizontally between the two pairs of birds, the space between their tails forming the arrowheads.
Details of the negative space double-arrowhead icon; Chodor Chuval illustrated above
There is a similar but less articulated one secreted in the minor gol of the torba we will illustrate later.
However, when the double-arrowhead icon appears between the birds it seems to us to have far greater implied meaning, and therefore we imagine prototype status that is lost when, as in the torba, the double arrowhead icon is transposed into the minor gol.
This hidden amulet, and others like the base boxes with the central dot, will play an important part in our unfolding argument.
Both in fact are keys that led to our theory explaining how the Ertman gol possibly developed.
Here is another Ertman gol from a main carpet (MC), somewhat later than the other two illustrated above but still pre-1850.
Detail, Ertman gol, from a Chodor MC RK dates second quarter of the 19th century
Here, too, are well-articulated birds, with crests, sitting on the box with center dot base. There is also the double arrowhead icon as well.
Again, like the chuval, there is an anthropomorphic stick-figure, but now it has become embellished with some elements the deYoung LFT Ertman gol displays.
This accreted version is easily recognized as an iconic combination lifted from the two earlier Ertman gol we have illustrated.
However the simple, stark, and devoid of any embellishment, picture the chuval displays proves to be the best of the bunch, and the prototype.
Another key feature, and one we have mentioned before as a signpost signifying an example is among the earliest Ertman gol, is the way the vertical “lightning bolt” zig-zag, surrounding the chuval’s Ertman and minor gol, does not remain equidistant from the gol.
Rather the space between it and the gol is smallest at the center and farther from it at the top and bottom of the gol.
This lends an important, but very subtle, irregularity to the design imbuing it with movement and undulation.
When absent, like in the deYoung torba and a lesser extent in the MC detail above, the design takes on a far less animated character.
This difference can’t help but convince us the chuval’s version proves once again to be the prototype.
Along this line notice how the outline shape of the torba’s big blue secondary gol mimics the one created by the “lightning-bolt” surround.
Far more than coincidence, it’s another bit of evidence the chuval is the earlier.
Comparing the minor gol they display provides icing on the cake.
Another aspect of the torba’s contrived iconography is the morphing of the minor gol box and central dot into ‘flowers’. The detail from the MC shows this as well.
Hold onto that thought, we will come back to it again.
The final nail in the coffin for the idea the torba is an early, pre-1800 weaving, is the rather common and not particularly brilliant main border, and more so the minor border’s large “S” icon now sandwiched into a dotted line rectangle.
All the early version we know do not have this and, therefore, we can only believe it is a later format.
Compare the torba borders with the chuval’s rarely seen double-helix style main border and so-far unique, pointillist jewel-like, minor borders.
These differences must be interpreted as further signpost the torba is most likely post-1800 and the chuval pre-1800.
Remember, our intent is not to prove which is the earlier solely for that reason, but to establish the chuval’s Ertman gol was developed from a continuum of archaic Turkmen woven iconography.
We believe we have discovered how this happened and can now trace the Ertman back to one of those archaic period Turkmen weavings.
RK has mentioned several times before what we call a “set” of icon, and how such a set can be used to demonstrate relationship.
A “set” is a group of at least three icon that unfailing appeared ensemble and tie certain weavings, even ones appearing to be unrelated, into a cluster or group.
This provides viable documentary evidence of strong underlying relationship.
Here the icons in the Ertman set are:
1. the depiction of birds(ie an animal)
2. the box and inner central dot base
3. the presence of a double arrowhead
There are two additional:
4. a kotchak finial
5. a splayed “V” figure below that kotchak finial.
Of course a set with five shared element is stronger than one with three or four, further convincing us what follows is not coincidence or accident.
Now we have laid out the playing field let’s bring out the star player.
Two details from an archaic period Turkmen engsi; RK Collection, unpublished
One caveat: We regret not publishing the entire engsi but we are not yet ready to release it, perhaps someday we will be.
The two detail above come from the horizontal panel separating the typical four panel engsi field.
However, there is nothing else typical about this remarkable and ancient weaving.
It is definitely one of the gems in our Turkmen collection, so let’s just leave praising it aside and get to the grist of this paper.
The upper one shows the most archaic imagery we have ever seen on any Turkmen weaving.
We interpret it as representation of a distinctive type of prehistoric ceramic vessel/jar with an indented shape and a rounded bottom.
At the top are two quadruped animals facing each other.
Those familiar with Bronze-Iron age (2,500-1500BC) ceramics know this style of round, not flat, bottomed jar existed, some with the less rarely seen indented shape.
Large ovoid, round bottom, storage jar Middle Bronze Age. The earliest form lacks handles. This type of vessel appears in many Bronze Age and later tombs in Egypt and the Aegean. Later Iron Age examples lose the sleek look this one exhibits.
Notice the boxes with central dot below the animals, these are icons number one and two in our set.
Icon three, the double arrowhead, is there as well.
It is far more than suggested, see the illustration below where we have blacked it out.
Icons four and five are also present
Left: Chodor chuval kotchak finial; Middle Left: Chodor chuval splayed-V; Middle Right: Archaic period engsi kotchak finial; Right: engsi complex finial and splayed “V” icon
The details from the archaic period engsi are pregnant with connections to other well-known icons, amulet and symbols in the Turkmen woven iconographic library, and we will list some of them but first let’s finish up with the Chodor Ertman connections.
The large–eight-pointed star in the secondary gol of the Chodor Ertman chuval is also present in the Archaic period engsi detail, where it is elongated and part of far more complex piece of iconography.
Left: Detail eight-pointed star, Chodor chuval; Left Middle: eight-pointed star with compass point additions that mimic the complex eight-pointed star from the engsi; Middle Right: Detail complex eight-pointed star, archaic period engsi; Right: blacked-out eight-pointed star; archaic engsi
RK chose to compare the engsi detail to the Chodor chuval but we could well have listed similar connection to the deYoung Chodor torba.
However, because the chuval is the earlier its connections are far more easily demonstrated.
Notice the torba has icon one, the bird/animal, and icon two the box and central dot base.
Icon three, the double arrowhead, is there as well.
It is well hidden, but there as the illustration below shows.
Detail deYoung torba showing double-arrowhead icon
Icons four, the kotchak finial, and five the splayed “V” are there as well.
Detail deYoung torba showing kotchak finial and splayed V
Another connection the engsi detail and the Chodor torba share is the complex icon we call a double kotchak pole with ashik. It appears in the torba’s large blue secondary gol.
We illustrate it below along with the earlier version from the engsi detail.
Left: detail double kotchak pole and ashik, turned from horizontal to vertical, from the deYoung Chodor torba; Right: double kotchak pole and prototype of the ashik from the engsi detail
We do honestly wish we could as easily trace how the set we have defined was transferred from the archaic period engsi, which we date circa 1600 perhaps even earlier, to the Classic period Chodor chuval, which is quite a bit later.
Unfortunately, we have yet to find any weaving we could confidently place between them, so this exercise has no opportunity to be more completely documented. However, there should now be little doubt concerning the relationship the engsi bears with the Ertman gol.
As for connections the engsi detail has with other pre-commercial period Turkmen weaving we’ll mention the most obvious – the pair of animals facing each other with those in the Tauk Nauska gol.
Another is the engsi’s large elongated eight-pointed star medallion and the very similar shaped central medallions on one type of “S” group kejebe torba.
“S” group LFT with distinctive elongated eight-pointed medallion
Turkmen weaving culture, like that which produced the Anatolian kelim, was an extremely isolated, closed and proprietary tradition.
Of course we are speaking prior to circa 1775.
After that date foreign influence, both military and commercial, gradually combined to erode and eventually destroy the societies that produced the Archaic and Classic period weaving models countless 19th century Turkmen weavers tried to emulate.
However before these alien forces were present, there is no doubt the traditional weaving culture re-adapted its own ancient iconography and formats to occasionally produce new ‘ neo-traditional’ additions.
We believe this is how the Ertman gol originated and considering the points raised above this contention appears to be well validated.
This process was surely not linear or exact, and we in no way are implying it was.
But proof is there for all to see when an archaic period Turkmen weaving, like our engsi, is discovered and then used to draw relationship to a much later genre, like the Chodor chuval or the deYoung torba.