Part One
Long before the invention of the modern loom, perhaps as early as the middle of the Neolithic period c.7000BC, extremely simple but highly functional warp weighted looms created patterned tapestries. Slit-tapestry weaving, more commonly known as kelim, was probably the earliest technique which created a patterned textile where the pattern was woven into and not applied onto the weaving. Extensive archaeological research and findings have proven that at this time the eastern Mediterranean region including parts of eastern Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and south-western Russia was culturally and technologically advanced with sophisticated religious and social conventions as well as a highly developed material culture. In this area, the earliest known primitive spindle whorls and the weights used in conjunction with warp-weighted looms have been found at numerous archaeological excavations. Even much earlier, c.10,000BC, indications of animal domestication are well represented from a few sites located within this area as well. To assume that tapestries decorated with patterns of great significance were also produced at this time would not be too unreasonable.

But what patterns decorated these prehistoric weavings? If they were anything similar to the designs found on decorated pottery and other objects recovered from the sites dating from this period, they would have contained anthropomorphic and geometric as well as fertility and female goddess designs. Unfortunately the cumulative effects of oxidation and organic decomposition have destroyed any remains of the organic materials used to create these weavings. However, carbonized remains of weavings have been found at one site dating from this period, c.6500BC, and, although they were not made in the slit-tapestry technique but rather were a type of loomless weaving or perhaps a type of simple loom tabby weave, their existence provides the necessary proof for the existence of prehistoric slit-tapestry woven textiles. Another even earlier, c.8000BC, site has provided fragments of dyed yarns which had been purposely knotted together. This technique, similar to the modern technique known as macramé, as well as other loomless weaving techniques, presaged the use of a four-sided fixed loom and most likely produced the ancestor weavings of the kelims presented here.

Part Two
Kelim weaving was practiced throughout the Near and Far East as well as Europe and the New World. Although the weavings done in each area exhibit distinctive designs, they often share a similar design iconography as well as a common technique, known as slit-tapestry. This label derives from the space or slit which is formed at each color change. Unlike other techniques, in slit-tapestry weaving discontinuous weft threads delineate the pattern. They are not joined together on a common warp thread at each color change but remain fixed on adjacent warp threads. Fig.1 shows the typical position of the uncolored warp threads, the foundation, and the colored weft threads, the pattern. Each time the pattern requires a different color horizontally, the previously used colored weft is turned back and the new color is begun on the adjacent warp thread. The warps are the unseen structural foundation and the weft threads both pattern and the second component necessary to complete a woven structure. Kelim weaving often progresses unevenly, some areas completed before others, again unlike other weaving techniques which are completed evenly, line by line.

The first loomed weavings were most probably slit tapestry, although there is no conclusive proof to support this idea. Where or when it was first attempted likewise remains unknown. However, by c.7000 BC impressions of slit-tapestry weaving were reportedly found on some of the plaster covering a shrine room wall at an archaeological site in central Anatolia. At this same site, carbonized textile fragments were also recovered and while the technique used to make these textiles is still undetermined, their presence does factually support the notion that slit tapestry weaving was possibly practiced prior to the seventh millennium BC!

Unfortunately no slit tapestry fragments have yet to be recovered from an archaeological site of the Neolithic period and the oldest known examples, made in this geographic area, date into the Islamic period circa 700-900AD. Weavings from this period are quite numerous but one particular example Fig.2, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, visually appears much older than any other known example. Its iconography contains some designs normally associated with much earlier prehistoric remains. This mysterious survivor is a unique example of slit tapestry weaving and although it was found at an Islamic period site, this author believes it was made elsewhere and at a much earlier time period. This is a very important textile and its eventual forensic analysis may yield some important clues to its origin as well as that of slit tapestry itself.

Part Three
Much more recently, the Near Eastern area most well known for its kelim weaving tradition is Turkey, where almost every area of this large country produced kelims. The central Anatolian plateau and surrounding foothills have it seems always been an important weaving center. Nine of the ten Anatolian kelims shown here were most probably produced in this geographically isolated area, and the research so far conducted indicates two distinct groups. Plates One through Five provide a fantastic array of the earliest known kelims, known as the Archaic group, and Plates Six through Ten, the next and later grouping, called the Classic group.

The idea of dating art has always fascinated researchers but as yet no conclusive proof has been found to date these weavings. They appear in no dated paintings or manuscripts, are not mentioned specifically in any travel accounts, and have not been recovered at any archaeological sites in this general area. Notwithstanding the above, careful examination of the large number of representative examples now available for study has enabled such distinctions to be drawn, and also suggests two other much later groups. Most of the known kelims which employ natural dyes, high quality materials and technique, but show signs of design decomposition and degeneration, when compared to the Archaic and Classic groups, should be placed in a third group known as the Traditional group. While the multitude of examples which have been dyed with one or more synthetic, commercial dyes and made with inferior materials and technique should be placed in the fourth group, known as the Industrial group.

The technical differences between the Archaic and Classic groups are subtle and until forensic scientific analysis is undertaken speculative differentiations will have to remain. One factor seems to provide the strongest basis for the grouping of a weaving - brilliant coloration. All the Archaic examples share a quality of dyeing that was the result of dyes and dyeing methods no longer available or known to later weavers. Also, the quality of the wool used for the Archaic examples appears different from that used for the later groups and one result of this difference is the greater dye saturation apparent in these examples. A second factor, design and composition, likewise separates the Archaic group from the rest. These examples possess designs closely related to those known from prehistoric archaeological remains. Their compositions are unique and undoubtedly provided the prototypes for those from the Classic group as well as the multitude of later and more common examples from the Traditional and Industrial groups.

One last factor must be mentioned here - examples from the Archaic group are incredibly rare. So far the only presently known examples are these five, which are on loan to The Weaving Art Museum from a private collection; a similar number which are now part of the De Young Museum in San Francisco; one example in the East Berlin Museum and one other in the Vakiflar Museum in Turkey. Kelims from the Classic group, while also being rare, are far more numerous and are represented in several other Museum and private collections.

Part Four
Cult and ritual activities have long been a feature of mankind's development, and weavings made from animal hairs were initially produced for the higher purposes intended by these practices. As soon as techniques of animal fiber spinning were mastered, the mysterious physical principle that caused these hairs to align and form a continuous thread must have engendered great awe and been viewed as a sign of powerful intervention by a superior force. It was no wonder then that these first weavings, and later actual loom woven textiles would have been decorated with patterns of significance and reserved for use in shrines and cult ceremonies.

What were these prehistoric cult ceremonies like? Why were caves in Southern France during the late Paleolithic period decorated with paintings as early as c.30,000BC? What happened in these shrines? What was the significance of the numerous shrines and cult buildings now known from the Neolithic period? These are fascinating questions and although no sure answers can be now determined, it is possible to draw some tentative conclusions. Perhaps the most suggestive aspect of the Paleolithic cave paintings, which may illuminate one type of ritualistic activity, was the occurrence at more than a few sites where the painting's outline was retraced over many times. This seems to have been done exclusively over naturalistic representations of animals and various explanations have been put forth, but none have come to the following conclusion. These particular drawings were part of a group ritualistic activity where the participants were equipped with coloring materials. After the image had been drawn on the cave wall by an "artist", the others passed by and either retraced the original lines of the image or applied a series of strokes or some other marks.

This type of cult act was perhaps the first group ceremony, as no complex language skills were needed for everyone's direct involvement. Such activities were quite possibly organized around some type of ritualistic dance, and groups of impressions of Paleolithic footprints occasionally found at some sites could remain from such ceremonies. More concrete evidence of cult dance rituals and complex ceremonies can be inferred at many later Neolithic sites. By the final stages of Neolithic cultural development, pottery fragments, from a site in the Indus Valley Fig.3 and Fig.4 were actually decorated with dancing figures - their hand holding lends further credence to this interpretation. The severe angularity of the drawing suggests they were copied from another medium, like carving or weaving, where curvilinear decoration was restricted. Music, dancing, magic and mystery were the components of prehistoric religious and cult ceremonies, and along with the associated importance of weaving, the exact role these activities might have played will have to await further archaeological discoveries.

Weaving and particularly kelim weaving, perhaps more than any other art form, has directly preserved designs and traditions from the prehistoric lexicon. The small slit-tapestry fragment Fig.2 was made with the same technique as the Archaic group and like them, this textile maintains a strong connection to the imagery associated with archaeological artifacts dating from the Neolithic period. The first and most immediately obvious is the large Fig.5 in slit tapestry a group of rare large Neolithic ceramic vessels, like Fig.6. The 'S' Fig.7 and the star with a circle in the center and Fig.8 also clearly relate to designs found on many Neolithic ceramics, as does the scepter design Fig.9. These icons and many as yet undefined others had important connotations within the symbolic language of prehistoric design iconography. Their frequent inclusion on woven artifacts made many thousands of years after archaeological objects from the Neolithic period tends to support the the direct connection weaving and particularly kelim weaving maintains with prehistoric iconography. In the Plate descriptions a very small part of this relationship will be illustrated and discussed. It should be noted that many others still lay hidden and undetected because their original form has been lost under subsequent layers of newly devised cultural symbols.

Part Five
The use of weaving has been a universal feature of ritual, religion and ceremony throughout the known period of man's history. This pervasive fact shows the continuity of a tradition begun long before and, with the application of new research techniques planned by the Weaving Art Museum, careful examination of weavings like those illustrated here may eventually help to explain their origins as well as the development of religion and cult activities themselves.

While many of the ideas presented in the following text focus on the relationship between archaeological objects and Anatolian slit-tapestry weavings, they also hint the far larger concept of man's desire to explain the unexplainable through art.

WRITTEN AND CURATED BY JACK CASSIN


Figures captions 1-9



First Plate



All Materials ©1998 WAMRI - The Weaving Art Museum and Research Institute. All Rights Reserved. For any problems with this site contact: webmaster@weavingartmuseum.org



Plate 1
Plate 2
Plate 3
Plate 4
Plate 5
Plate 6
Plate 7
Plate 8
Plate 9
Plate 10

Click for more details.