In early 1986 Dr M. L. Ryder published an article entitled "Felt, Man's Earliest Fabric" (Hali 29, Jan-March 1986, pp.45-49). The article began with a large illustration of part of the figural felt hanging discovered in the Pazyryk graves that dates from the 5th century B.C. It shows a technique that is already very fully developed, using panels of differently coloured felt for the different elements of the design, including red, brown, blue and black, worked on a cream coloured ground. Also in the Pazyryk finds were the extraordinary felt appliqués with moulded coloured flying birds (Sergei I. Rudenko, Frozen Tombs of Siberia, London, 1970, pl.166). These have even brighter colours, with two reds, an ivory, a yellow and a black. Also found were a number of sphynx characters with curling scrolling elements stretching from their headdresses and tails (Rudenko op.cit, pl.173). Furthermore, and less well known, were a series of saddle cloths (shabrack) of rectangular form also worked in felt with repeating designs (op.cit., pls.160-162)
As with the knowledge of carpets, the Pazyryk Finds stand out as a distant historical island in the very murky ocean of the study of early felts. In June 1994 Zsuzsanna Gulácsi tried to fill in a small poart and wrote another article about felts, this time drawing on a small number of Manichaean fragmentary paintings which depict various figures kneeling on coloured textiles, and, through demonstrating a possible link with relatively recent central Asian felts, hoped to show that the textiles were early depictions of felts. Her problem was that apparently no felts had survived from the period of the paintings. Carpets from before the 16th century are rare enough; felt by its very construction is also the fabric most likely to disintegrate or suffer from hungry animals or insects. Anybody who has examined most 19th century Persian felt mast will know how poorly it tends to survive.
The article by Gulácsi is fascinating in the context of the present rug. The relatively recent felts that she depicts show clear similarities with the present rug. Their use of just two colours in any area of the design, playing with the positive and negative spaces thus created, and their use of scrolling designs similar to the Islamic arabesque but somehow different, is notable. One rug in particular, a bichromatic brown and ivory example from Oho' Farkas has in the field a quadripartite design, each of the four arms being very similar in feel to the elements in the present border (Gulácsi, op.cit., pl.8, p.84). That Mongol felt design in general is archaic is very clear; what comes however as a real surprise is how unchanged it is after the passage of nearly 1000 years. The date on the present felt, confirmed by the carbon dating, demonstrates that Gulácsi's theory was absolutely correct, and her use of modern felts to illustrate the point, a technique that frequently fails completely, was in this case absolutely to the point. There are differences in design, but the main difference is certainly that of quality, the present rug having a far more complex version of the design than the modern example, with a far greater precision of line. Further examination of the Pazyryk finds shows some which demonstrate that design has changed remarkably little in 2,500 years, let alone just one milennium, such as the design on a leather pouch (Rdenko, op.cit., pl.153a).
There is one felt bag that was recently on the market, advertised by Carlo Christi, that shares similarities with the present rug, its design in red and orange on a dark brown/black ground, and stated as carbon dated to 940 AD +/-35 years.
This is a truly remarkable survival of a fabric very susceptible to damage which, apart from the staining, is in outstanding condition, with even the red colour very well preserved.
A Carbon date test on a sample from this rug, performed by Dr Georges Bonani, ETH/PSI facility in Zurich, sample number ETH-40221 on 15th June 2010 gave a 68.2 probability of a date between 1010AD - 1150AD and a 95.4 probability of a date between 990AD - 1160AD.