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Antique handmade, long piled nomad rugs are rare and unique. Primitive Rug reveals the stories of the nomadic people who wandered the deserts and mountains of Central Asia and beyond, leaving behind these woven works of art. In our store you will find an exclusive selection of old, nomad made rugs. 

These primitive hand woven rugs are from the Amu Darya in the north of Afghanistan, Samarkand in Uzbekistan, the Afghan Pamirs, eastern Turkey, Iran, Spain, eastern Europe, and the mountainous regions of central Afghanistan.

Uzbek Rugs.jpg


Shaggy Long Pile Tribal Nomad Rugs

Filtering by Tag: Yakut

Primitive Eskimo Skin Rugs

Robert Cobcroft

Out of Africa into a haze of white and ice

Humans aren't born with thick furry waterproof coats like polar bears. Before the age of petroleum and faux plastic fur - the choice was simple, kill the bear and wear it, graphically illustrated in Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back. On planet Hoth, Luke Skywalker is struck from his hairy grey Tauntaun snow lizard by a Wampa Ice Creature. Han Solo comes to rescue Luke. Solo slices his expired Tauntaun from head to toe with Luke's saber, removes the beasts insides and stuffs Luke into the stinking carcass. Science fiction yet the icy vision is potent.

Out of Africa and into a haze of white and ice borrowing the hides of beasts along the way. Wherever and whenever it was colder than Africa, during and after the last ice age, man had to come up with solutions to remain permanently warm. The Yakut in Eastern Siberia used animal skins yet a reindeer is hardly going to provide suitable wool for weaving unlike a yak or fat tailed sheep. When the Yakut moved North they left behind the opportunity to exploit the abundance that primitive pastoralism could provide. Scythian primitive pastoralists shore their herd for wool and weaving. Even further north the possibility of herding and shearing polar bears is nil let alone weaving their shaggy fur into a whiter than white woolen fantasy - hunt them and wear their hides - yes that can be done.

Supremely warm and clad in seal and bearskin from head to toe, a smiling Eskimo girl stands proudly on and in front of her primitive pieced skin rugs of many borders.

Cutting out the white fur patterns, stitching them in sections to the dark fur strips then sewing all the strips together must have taken ages in the whiteout of an Alaskan winter. The technique used can easily be seen the rug on the floor shows both front and back. Some of the parts would appear as if in relief against light or dark colours. This technique is not seen in pieced skin rugs from Eastern Siberia and Central Asia. In Alaska different techniques have independently developed.  In Central Asia pieced skin rugs are more simplistic in design. Yakut pieced skin rugs are mostly deer or reindeer hides stitched together. The Eskimo pieced skin rug takes on the form of a multi-bordered primitive rug the outer border resembles Uzbek Julkhyrs from northern Afghanistan. There is no source of information on the history of these rugs, perhaps the patterning is a natural response to viewing a woven carpet from far away. The image was shot in the 1st quarter of the 20th Century. Pieced skin reindeer hide rugs were also made by Eskimo’s and resemble those of the Yakut.

Woven rugs used as floor coverings, is a direction which nomadic primitive pastoralists took when the climate and animal herds were in harmony with the need to weave. The creation of animal skin trappings, floor rugs, bedding, shelters, transport and clothing did not die off because in ideal climates weavers began to weave.

The importance of wool as a resource for weavers is highlighted by the plight of Turkmen weavers in the North of Afghanistan when forced to buy wool from the Kirghiz of the Afghan Pamirs in the early 1970's. The cost of transportation is thrown into the spotlight here.

"felt, horse covers, furs, sheepskins, and wool are also taken to markets. Again the amount of these latter items is small because of the extremely difficult and costly transportation. The demand for wool, however, is very much on the rise because of the increasing international market for Afghan carpets. The need for high quality Kirghiz wool was realised particularly after the 1971-72 drought in northern Afghanistan (one of the main areas of carpet-weaving industry), which devastated the animal population of the area. As a result, during the past few years Turkmen carpet weavers have been coming to the Pamirs solely to buy wool." 1

Weaving exists where there is an abundance of woolly animals to round up and shear, as a requirement to keep warm or provide practical floor coverings.

Domestic and wild animal skin products are created alongside woven items where both weaving and treating hides is possible.

Independently, animal skin items are made where the opportunity to access an abundant source of shorn wool is limited by climate or distance.


1. Shaharani M. Nazif  The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan Adaptation to Closed Frontiers and War University of Washington Press 2002 201

Photograph titled Eskimo Bell - Primitive Eskimo Skin Rugs probably Cape Prince of Wales - Nome Alaska

Title: Eskimo girl wearing clothes of all fur

Other Title: Eskimo bell [i.e. belle] ca 1900-1930

Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsc-02273

Call Number: LOT 11453-2, no. 1

Frank and Frances Carpenter collection

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs

Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


Robert Cobcroft




This Yakut fishing scene could have been recorded in the bronze or early iron age.

The pieced skin rug on the floor of the Yakut fisherman's  conical tent1 is identical in concept to the primitive pieced skin rugs stitched together by nomads in Central Asia. The rug is probably made from deer skins or reindeer, the fisherman's jacket is also fashioned from softened and stitched animal hides. Sergei Rudenko published an image of a "piece of fur clothing" in Frozen tombs of Siberia The Pazyryk Burials of Iron-Age Horsemen which closely resembles the fisherman's rug and jacket, linking these items and Central Asian pieced skin rugs to the Scythian horsemen.2 Apart from the buildings in the background this scene could have been recorded in the bronze or early iron age.

Pieced skin rugs and animal hide products including methods of softening hides are shared by Kirghiz and Yakut. The significance of the continuation of the practice of making pieced skin rugs can be linked back to a time prior to the Yakut moving North into Eastern Siberia and probably pre-dating the early Iron-Age. Kirghiz women in the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan soften the hides3 of Karakol sheep and Yak in preparation for dip dying and stitching pieced skin rugs . Yakut women use similar methods to soften hides, here we see a Yakut women softening the hide of a deer after it's been stripped of it's flesh and dried. The hide is simply softened by applying pressure with the repeated use of a stick over it's surface.

Yakut or Sakha language is firmly rooted in their early history on the steppes further South. Migrating from Olkhon and the region of lake Baikal Northwards to Eastern Siberia. Eventually mixing with Tungusic Evens and Evenki.4 Turkic speaking Yakut have assimilated many other words into their language yet retain their Turkic identity through language and other practices.  The practice of reciting epics  like the Yakut Olonko is identical to the Kyrgyz of Kyrgyzstan's proud tradition of the recital of the Epic Manas. Yakut are described as pastoralists like the Kirghiz of Central Asia and the Iron-Age Scythians. Kumys5 is a favourite among Yakut at festivals, not unlike Kirghiz of Central Asia who use the same word to describe a type of fermented mares milk.

The image on the right shows a Yakut woman standing on a Yakut pieced skin primitive rug with a display of items used in conjunction with the making and serving of Kumys. She is also wearing traditional tailored animal skin clothing.

Relatively primitive pastoralism.

Nomads and pastoralists have been busily slaughtering animals wild or domestic throughout the ages, making their hides into assorted clothing, bedding, rugs, mats, trappings, shelters, boats, window covers plus many other items. Take a look at the typical inventory of the Scythian animal herd about 2,500 years ago including yaks, horse, large horned cattle, small horned animals, goats and sheep with "slight fat-tails". Scythians hunted wild animals, however this was secondary to their form of "primitive pastoralism". Deer, maral, elk, mountain goats and rams, boars, saiga, antelope, steppe cat, squirrel, sable, otter, ermine, leopard, wolf, roebuck, hare and other ungulates were all unearthed from the icy Pazyryk barrows.6

Scythian horsemen kept sheep with "slight fat-tails" which took second place in Scythian economy after horses.7 "Primitive pastoralism" practiced by the Scythians , the inclusion of yak and sheep in their herds, the secondary place that hunting took, mirrors the lifestyle of  modern day Kirghiz of the Afghan Pamirs. Yakut not only produce similar animal skin items as the Kirghiz and Scythians, they are pastoralists especially known for breeding horses. A special breed of Yakut horse which can withstand sub zero temperatures sets the Yakut apart from the Evenki and other local ethnic groups.

Yakut Horsemen and Yakut Horses

Historically Yakut share similar ancient burial rituals to the Iron Age Scythian horsemen. Yakut horsemen probably settled in the region around the Lena River of the vast Sakha Republic in Eastern Siberia around the time Iron Age Scythian Horsemen were busy digging out their icy barrows in the Altai mountains. The famed Iron-Age Pazyryk rug, retrieved from the ice and mud by Sergei Rudenko dates from that period.8 Yakut burial rituals are similar to those of the Scythians, R.Bravina in a paper for the Arctic Museum discussed recent developments in the study of ancient Yakut burials.

"Some elements of the ritual of burying humans with horses, that is, position of the corpses, number of horses, in-burial installations, orientation to the West etc, show the ancient character of these elements, that were characteristic of the early nomads of Southern Siberia and Central Asia, beginning in the Bronze and early Iron Ages. It seems that horse breeding tribes settled the territory of Yakutia starting in early Iron Age."9

Rugs, trappings, bags, cradles and pack covers for sleds were crafted from animal skins by the Yakut and neighbouring Evenki, Eveni and Tungus. Window covers are even fashioned from fish skins by the Evenki. Animal hides used in making pieced skin trappings, rugs and clothing include, reindeer, deer, bear, seal and fish. Also hunted were polar bears and the polar fox.

Conical tents were used by Paleolithic Siberian hunters and favoured by Tungus, Yakut, Evenki and Eveni. Animal skins or birch bark were favoured materials for tent coverings, the Yakut fisherman's small conical tent is covered with straw. Fishing techniques were probably borrowed from neighboring taiga.10


A favourite animal.

As floor coverings animal skins are not as durable as woven items. Creating intricate patterns is more difficult with animal skins. Clipping  the fur of a hide low would produce an ugly result.  Size of a finished pieced skin rug including the various small pieces of sewn hide is limited, sometimes many small pieces need to be sewn to larger pieces to create a symmetrical rug.

Rudenko unearthed woven rugs which mimic animal skins, they look almost identical to modern Julkhyrs or Tulu.  Woolen cloth with looped pile was unearthed from barrow 2.11 The cloth looks like any looped pile rug woven by nomadic pastoralists today.  Primitive pastoralists had the option to begin weaving their rugs into patterns and shapes which afforded them flexibility in creating custom made items. Floor coverings could still provide warmth and be made to look like a favourite animal. Wool could be dyed and woven into a durable foundation. Size was no restriction and the old way of simply stitching hides together could now be used to stitch long lengths of woven items together. The pile could be clipped low yet still producing an aesthetically pleasing and durable floor covering.

Many varied uses of animal skin items afforded nomads and pastoralists with warmth, shelter and transport, in the form of canoes. To this day nomads and pastoralists create products including rugs from animal hides as well as weaving many varied items including rugs which are facsimile animal hides. It's as if the close bond with the animals that provided so much just can't be broken. Today shaggy floor coverings of all kinds including woven shag rugs and animal hides lay side by side on floors all over the globe, aesthetically pleasing and primitive.


1. Shifting Boundaries: Ice Age Tents 14/02/11 1:51 PM

2. Sergei I. Rudenko, Frozen tombs of Siberia: The Payzryk Burials of Iron Age Horsemen Berkley and Los Angeles University Press, 1970. Illustrations 132 1; E,

3. Dor, R. & Neumann, C. Die Kirghisen des Afghanischen Pamir

Akademische Druck- u. Verlanganstalt, Graz 1978 86-87


5. Sommer. J, Akmoldoeva. B Klavdiya Antipina Ethnographer of the Kyrgyz Spring Hill Press McKinleyville, California. 2002 262

kumuss, koumiss Fermented mare's milk. A drink. Also: " kumuss",  koumuss."

6. Sergei I. Rudenko, loc. cit.59

7. Sergei I. Rudenko, loc. cit. 57

8. Sergei I. Rudenko,loc. cit. 302

9. Bravina. R, Traditional culture of the Sakha peoples according to archaeological monuments in museums of Yakutia Media Collection Web: 3 February 2011, 3.32 PM

10. Edward J. Vajda

11. Sergei I. Rudenko, loc. cit. Illustrations 134 3; C,

Photograph of Yakut Fisherman used by permission William Brumfield.

"Brumfield Photograph Collection" ( Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-05276 (digital file from original)

For more detailed information on the Yakut and Evenki go to

Primitive Skins from the Stone Age Part 4

Thierry Girard

A few years ago a group of fur rugs appeared in the collectors market.

Kirghiz primitive skin rug

Probably sourced in Afghanistan, they raised a lot of questions as they were not woven but consisted of various fur pieces sewn together.1 Moreover some parts were dyed in the way Uzbeks and Arabs from Afghanistan dye their polychromatic julkhyrs and some other trappings.  Another curious and unusual feature were the presence of threads sewn all along the back of the rug and a horn motif was even visible in the corners of some rugs.

Their precise and definitive origin has never been clearly identified but it is highly probable they were used by Kirghiz populations inhabiting the Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan. The widespread use of fur among the Kirghiz population and the presence of the little horns seems to indicate this.

They are difficult to date but the presence of synthetic colours among the embroidered threads prove they can not be older than the last quarter of the 19th century.  Synthetic dyes were already widespread among Kirghiz weavers in the 19th century. Some Kirghiz rugs collected in the Wakhan corridor by Russian expeditions in the 1880’s were already dyed with the poor fugitive red dye for which Kirghiz rugs and trapping are famous.

The Kirghiz were already well known a few centuries ago in international fur trading.2 They use furs as a blanket, of both sheep and camel origin, and they even produce warm and thick fur topcoats they call « Tôn ». Pictures taken by Sabrina and Roland Michaud in the Wakhan corridor in the 70’s show raw furs used as packaging for camels and covers on the back of horses.3

Dr Nazif Shaharani, author of The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan, confirmed the use of such furs as rugs among the Kirghiz and Wakhi people in the Wakhan and Iktamish districts of the Afghan Badakhshan province and called them Postak. He did not however confirm the presence of fur dying processes among these populations and even raised a doubt about the genuine origin of the dyed pieces.4

Detail sheep skin rug


Quilted undyed fur rugs with very similar rectangular designs are also used among Siberian Yakoutes tribes who are of Turkic origin and

Decoarative embroidered edge binding

historically fur counsumers, they are also traders like the Kirghiz people. 5


Postak, fur covers and blankets, are widespread in the Kabul market and they are allegedly used even in the Pashtun Southern provinces of Afghanistan. They are not quilted but simple pieces of fur. In Wardak Southern province, they are called by the simple word of pashmani (from « pashm », the Persian word for wool). In these areas both Pashtun villagers and semi-nomadic tribes (« Kutchis ») have furs but consider them too costly to be used as mats. 6 It is right that Durani Pashtun are mainly goat breeders and sheep skins are highly prizedamong them. They are used as covers during the night or even folded on the shoulders when seated in either the tent or the house.

Hence it is possible these quilted and dyed furs would have a twofold purpose and could be also used as shoulder covers which could explain the presence of decorative thread on the skin part. A similar practice has been noticed on a mummy found by scientists in Subeshi, not far from Turfan, and dated from the warring states period. 7

Otherwise use of quilted furs is not widespread in the world but one can also notice the similar use of quilted fur mats in Tchad and Mauritania where they are called Khlef, Khlief, Farou and Farouw. 8 And curiously the famous french artist and decorator Armand-Albert Rateau created a very similar collection of fur rugs for the company Lanvin Couture early in the 20th century. 9 At this time occidental artists and decorators often took inspiration among ethonological artifacts from colonies. It is possible Armand did the same.

To summarize one can say that use of furs is a common practise in Central Asia but such quilted furs with both embroideries and unusual dying processes are virtually unknown… They could be the result of a limited and creative attempt by a group of women from the same family. This would explain the limited number of existing pieces, about a dozen,  and the fact they appeared all at once in the market…

Thierry Girard

Back of Kirghiz pieced skin rug

1 - J.Wertime, Hali 100, 1998 p.86

2 – R .B Serjeant, Islamic Textiles, : material for a history up to the Mongol conquest. Beirut 1972 p.p.209

3 -  Roland Michaud et Sabrina Michaud, Caravans to Tartary New York 1978

4 - Dr Nazif Shaharani, personal communication, 2009

5 – V.Gorbatcheva & M.Federona, L’art de Sibérie, Parkstone Press 2008p.191 & 226

6 - Rafiq Sharifi, personal communication, 2008

7 – J.P Mallory & V.Mair, The Tarim Mummies, London 2000 p.25, pl.VI

8 -, items N° 71.1938.48.1, 71.1957.82.117 & 71.1969.70.1

9 – F. Olivier-Vial & F.Rateau, Armand Albert Rateau, les éditions de l'amateur, Paris, 1992, p.127