Turkey’s Anatolian kilim rugs, once used as export wrapping for more valuable pile carpets, have soared in value as they have become prized by collectors.
Now new research says they date back to the Stone Age.
“We have found evidence in Turkey of the oldest woven textiles yet found in the world, and there is a direct line of descent to kilims still being woven today,” British archeologist James Mellaart said.
Historians say women weavers in many Turkish villages have for 9,000 years preserved patterns that may shed new light on the region’s forgotten social and religious past.
Mellaart and two colleagues, Turkish kilim expert Belkis Balpinar and West German photographer Udo Hirsch, are to publish later this year a study comparing archeological remains with present-day kilims.
“I think it’s very exciting. It’s a very respectable theory and I’m dying to see the book,” said Alan Marcuson, editor of Hali, an authoritative Oriental carpet trade magazine.
Mellaart said he first made the link in 1961 when excavation of a late Stone Age site at Catalhuyuk, east of Ankara, produced evidence of geometric patterns and textile wall hangings.
“My Turkish colleagues immediately said, ‘Those are kilims,’ ” Mellaart said. “But nobody then knew what kilims were, so we had nothing scientific to go on.”
Until about 10 years ago, the flat-weave wool rugs were still being ignored by carpet collectors.
They were highly prized in the Turkish villages but were known to the outside world only when they were used as wrappings for the more valuable pile carpets.
Since then their low price compared with pile carpets has sparked the interest of collectors, and there has been a flood of catalogues, exhibitions and even conferences.
Gaudy tourist kilims now sell as fast as knotted pile carpets in the Istanbul bazaar and decorate homes worldwide.
Serious collectors have made old kilims an investment, and one group now bids up to $100,000 apiece for fragments hundreds of years old still being found in Turkish mosques.
Balpinar, who in 20 years as a former curator and official Turkish collector has seen innumerable examples, said the dating of old pieces was unreliable because patterns did not change.
“But I can sometimes tell the place of origin down to a single village or tribe, because the pattern is handed down from mother to daughter, probably for thousands of years,” she said.