Turkmen rugs present to researchers a situation unlike that which exists in other areas of rug studies.
This is because prior to the earliest incursions and faint beginnings of the commercial period, circa 1800-1825, the Turkmen were the most isolated weaving culture, set in a region of the Near East where prior to then very few foreign contacts of any kind had been established.
Their geographic positioning far enough off the east-west trade routes, and its difficult to master terrain contributed to this circumstance.
But there is another reason.
Their war-like societies were not hospitable to foreign merchants and other types of social contacts.
These factors, and others like the distance from the Mediterranean and other large navigable bodies of water, protected the Turkmen and their weaving culture, creating a veritably impenetrable barrier to outside influence.
And while we may have generalized a bit here, it is impossible to deny this was the situation prior to the beginning of the 19th century, when finally outside forces became powerful enough to successfully intrude into Turkmenistan to initiate conquest and decimate the historic Turkmen clans, their individual weaving cultures and proprietary iconographies.
Detail “S” group chuval, so-called ‘salor’ or turreted gol
This process did not happen all at once, it lasted for over a century.
But once a threshold was reached the traditional Turkmen societies, and their ancient traditions, collapsed leaving a vacuum impossible to refill.
However, prior to the middle of the 19th century this process though established and ongoing still had not reached that threshold, and the Turkmen weaving culture was able to retain much of its ancient tradition.
RK has previously described the proscribed observance the Turkmen paid to their woven vocabulary, and how this controlled its transmission and maintained the proprietary nature of that iconography each group saw as their own.
This prevented, until it was overwhelmed by the virtual destruction of the traditional Turkmen way of life, their weaving culture’s assimilation of foreign motifs, patterns and designs.
It also resulted in the Turkmen weaver’s rich, but in fact, somewhat limited iconographic vocabulary compared to other oriental rugs.
As time went on the former strict and exact reproduction of this iconography suffered severe internal change, which found expression as either degeneration, ie the loss of certain essential elements, or accretion, ie the addition of new, alien ones.
As a rule of thumb, Turkmen weavings made prior to 1800 exhibit little to none of this, those made after 1800 but before 1850 should be seen as possible victims, and those made after 1850 probable victims.
The farther advanced from that date, 1850, the reality one or both of these factors has encroached, and a weaving’s iconography has been affected, can be assured.
RK is long on the record in our belief there are pre-1800, pre-1700, and yes pre-1600, extant Turkmen woven objects.
We own several, and know of some others elsewhere.
These are incredibly rare, and because the differences they exhibit are extremely subtle identifying them is not an easy task.
And it is surely something we are not going to discuss at length here, nor do we plan to in the near future. Remember we are still collecting and feel no need to further edify competition.
However we are going to, as we have previously, provide original information that can help train the eye and mind for such a task.
One of the great questions in Turkmen studies surrounds which exactly are the weavings of the “Salor”, especially those woven prior to the commercial period?
Thanks to the pioneering work of dr jon thompson, in his annotations to the republication of A.A. Bogolyubov’s “Carpets in Central Asia” in 1973, a very specific group of Turkmen weaving was identified.
Two admirers holding the “S” group ‘salor’ gol fragment sold in the Tent Band sale, Dec.1990.
He called them “S” group and implied that these were, in fact, woven by the “Salor”.
Though his research, based on structure, was excellent in identifying this group, there is not one shred of evidence to conclusively link them to the “Salor”. And RK has absolutely no faith they are.
And there is another almost identical group of weavings to “S” group that differ in a very minor but easily ascertainable technical respect. These have an asymmetric knot open to the right, rather than the asymmetric knot open to the left.
Are these “Salor” too?
If so why is there this technical difference?
So what thompson’s discovery boils down to is the discovery of a very specific, rare and physically beautiful, group of Turkmen weavings, “S” group”, about which nothing additional is known.
And, therefore, the question: Which are the weavings of the venerable “Salor” tribe remains unanswered.
This fact has not stopped many pundits and turko-talkers from declaring a weaving as having been woven by the “Salor”. The literature abounds in such declarations.
We even have a Turkmen gol, called the ‘salor’ gol, found on numerous chuval, including “S” group, but not on any main carpets made before 1850.
It is also known as the ‘turreted’ gol.
“S” group chuval fragment with 'salor' gol; formerly RK collection; published Tent Band Tend Bag, 1989; sold in the TentBand sale 1990. The other half of this chuval was sold several years later also at sotheby NY in the jon thompson sale.
Due to these and other unmentioned reasons RK is a disbeliever in any ideas “S” group weavings are those of the “Salor”. Likewise neither are their almost identical, but asymmetrically open to the right, relatives or the ubiquitous commercial period 'salor' gol chuvals obviously made by the Tekke.
This problematic situation raises a number of issues; however, the one that has motivated this paper concerns examining some of “S” group 'salor' gol chuvals to place them in an analytic continuum.
Before we do this we need mention overall the majority of "S" group weavings display only superficial differences, with hardly any significant iconographic or physical ones.
There are, however, some rare "S" group chuval with other gol formations, not the 'salor' gol, whose coloration is not a brilliant red, but rather either a deep burgundy or pinkish lighter red.
These two groups tend to be among the earliest examples but since RK has not seen any with the ‘salor’ gol they are not included in this brief analytic survey.
It is for this and other reasons we believe, and are long on the record stating, most if not all types of "S" group weavings are probably citified urban ones made outside the historic environment responsible for most other types of Turkmen clan based products.
This is an important point that has been completely overlooked by almost all other other researchers in their headlong admiration for the shiny wool and technically impressive weaving typifying “S” group. And we know of none who have mentioned this prior to our research’s publication.
Let’s take this one step farther and take a guess at where urban environment responsible for the brilliant red type of “S” group weavings, including those with the 'salor' gol we illustrate, was located: In the south-west corner of Turkmenistan near the Caspian Sea in the ancient region and city of Gorgân, formerly known as Astarâbâd.
Their glowing carmenic red and bi-level, aka depressed, warp are totally unlike other Turkmen weavings, so much so they almost have to be an alien product.
Another point is their ‘standardization’ and rote repetition of an iconographic formula; this, too, is very non-Turkmen.
And although other types of Turkmen weavings ostensibly look alike, actually there are always subtle, as well as minute, discernable differences.
This is not so with these "S" group 'salor' gol chuvals.
This dependence on reproducing a formula exists not only with them, and there are several types as we will soon discuss, but in general with virtually all their known weaving genres – "S" group main carpet, torba and engsi.
Further leading us to conclude their production was a workshop controlled urban one rather than the historically design proscribed clan/yurt production model.
Let’s compare a few representative “S” group 'salor gol' chuvals to see what we are talking about.
“S” group chuval with 'salor' gol alleged by Elena tsavera to be 500 years old
RK published this “S” group chuval some time ago noting our disbelief it is as old as story-teller tsavera claims.
Nonetheless, it is one of the best, if not the best, example of what we call type one.
The repetition of a similar element -- an eight-pointed star in the center and four, north/south/east/west, kotchak surround -- in the center of the minor gol and in the center of the major gol is the main feature of this group.
Another type one chuval in the hoffmeister collection is clearly somewhat later and not nearly as highly refined.
Type two substitutes an eight pointed star in the center of the minor gol, replacing the more complex type one star and kotchak assembly.
Type two "S" group 'salor' gol chuval
While this might signify to be a later style to many observers, RK believes just the opposite.
Type two "S" group ‘salor’ gol chuval minor gol; Left: type one; Right: type two
First because that star and kotchak device has always appeared contrived, especially if one believes as we do it is nothing but a degenerate version of the far earlier, and very rarely encountered, “S” group minor gol shown below.
It is highly interesting to note this gol displays two type of kotchak, ones on triangle bases and others without the triangle.
Notice the star and kotchak assembly in the center of the type one chuval's major gol above are without the triangle, and those in the center of its minor gol have the triangle.
And second, an exact replica of the type two minor gol appears on a type of early Bronze Age pottery, detail shown below, from the Namazga sequence circa 2,000BC. Bestowing a prehistoric connection few other Turkmen icons have been proven to maintain.
For comparison here is a somewhat later, not as refined or artistic, type two "S" group ‘salor’gol chuval recently advertised for sale by a European dealer.
Notice the rather unsightly way the weaver butted the two outer major gol in the center row against the border by adding a heavy blue line to the gol edge.
This, the quite unimaginative and boring depiction of the typical rows of elem flowers, and equally stiff main border tell-tale signs it is an end of the series weaving.
Compare these features with the type two fragment above, as well as noticing the failure of the weaver to sprinkle some light red flowers among the blues ones in the elem.
Details showing purposely truncated major gol to create the infinity perspective
While these and other subtleties are iconographically and artistically significant they do not, in our opinion, imply substantial age differences between these two type two "S" group 'salor' gol chuval.
However, this is not the case with the Tekke chuval. It is in our opinion the oldest chuval with a 'salor' gol we have ever seen. It is what we call a prototype.
Perhaps there is a fifty year at best spread separating the two type two 'salor' gol chuval we illustrate.
How old is the Tekke 'salor' gol chuval?
We'd venture to say at least 50 years older than the type three fragment below.
There is one additional “S” group chuval of the type, we call type three, which does appear to be appreciably earlier – we’d venture to say around 100 years.
Type three “S” group 'salor' gol chuval fragment; private collection; unpublished
Notice the bluish tone to the highly corroded silk. This is most likely dyed with kermes, and not cochineal or lac as found in almost all other type one and type two chuval.
Also the rare seen minor gol adds considerably weight to our contention.
However, the rather sloppy outline of the implied medallion that minor gol has, and scattered somewhat unsightly (vertically) compressed stars, discount our belief even this version can be dated earlier than circa 1700 at most on our continuum.
There is one more ‘salor’ gol chuval germane to this exercise. A Tekke chuval, mentioned above, RK discovered and acquired some years ago.
Detail prototype chuval with ‘salor’gol, Tekke; RK collection
We have already published a smaller detail of this chuval on RugKazbah.com, and once again we are not ready to publish the entire chuval at this time.
In common with the type two fragment above the major gol are not as spherical as many of the later examples.
We do not see this as any strong indication those are earlier; quite the contrary, as the slight lack of roundness is made up by numerous other prototypical aspects.
Not all of them pertinent to ‘salor’ gol chuval but to other types of Tekke chuval as well.
For instance the rare main border, as well as the minor borders, demonstrates a weaver’s skill but more significantly close connection to the historic roots of the components they display. And the wonderfully animated, iconic, elem panel shows another feature typifying prototype status.
Same goes for the minor gol and its jewel-like articulation, which sets the standard for the later not so detailed or artful copies in the type one or type two chuval we illustrate, and others published elsewhere.
Be sure to carefully examine the minor gol detail above to see the clever color play and color juxtaposition. Also notice the tiny X’s motifs placed in the boxes, both around the ‘star-crosses’ and in the others without the star-cross.
Other mentionable aspects are the extra-large kotchak volutes within the center of the major gol and the four bi-colored(blue and red) small boxes surrounding the central star and kotchak motif, which provide a glimpse of how the aina gol, seen on a multitude of late Tekke weavings, must have originally appeared.
And while the weaver of this chuval also butted the left and right major gols in the central row against the border, as the weaver of the type two chuval above did, here it is done understanding how to properly create the illusion of infinity without destroying it in the process.
The simulation of an infinite design was an important concept shown in certain early Turkmen weavings. It was best accomplished by placing incomplete major gols at the sides, or top and bottom, of a weaving. When done with the minor gol, it was never as successful.
This allows the ‘design’ to continue beyond the borders, emulating the Turkmen cultural idea of living in a world without artificial boundary.
Spiritually, psychologically and intellectually this, perhaps more than any other idea, encapsulates for RK how pre-commercial period Turkmen people must have viewed their life and the universe.
Naturally, once ‘conquered’ it was to be no more, and their later weavings, always with careful demarcation of field and border, definitely show this was the case.
There are a number of other visible aspects demonstrating which of these “S” group ‘salor’ gol chuval are earlier and better than others and we hope our readers will spend the time necessary to see this for themselves.
Examining the use of color, the proportions of specific elements both in relation to the whole as well as each other, and the small details of articulation are just a few.
To close this exercise we wish to repeat what we have written before: RK seriously doubts any “S” group weaving can be placed among the tiny group of the earliest known Turkmen woven products.
The earliest extant “S” group weaving, according to us, is a chuval we formerly owned and offered for sale in the 1990 TentBand sale, lot 2.
To show how naïve and uneducated the market for Turkmen weavings was 23 years ago -- this chuval went unsold!
Here is a detail.
But even this one cannot compare to the weavings we place in that elite grouping of archaic, archetype, Turkmen weavings.