Stein, Aurel, Serindia: Detailed Report of Exploration in Central Asia and Westernmost China Carried Out and Described Under the Orders of H.M Indian Government , 5 vols (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1921), vol. III, p. 1243.
Stein Textile Loan Collection. On loan from the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India. Copyright: Government of India.
Six fragments of plain woven wool, plant fibre and silk, clamp-resist dyed wool twill.
Length: 35 cm largest fragment, Width: 15 cm largest fragment
Karadong lies south of Kucha on the northern Silk Road. On his first visit, Stein found the remains of timber dwellings atop an earthen rampart and concluded that the site had once been a frontier post. Artefacts unearthed there, including copper coins from the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD), suggested that it had flourished during this period. When Stein visited Karadong a second time, he discovered three dwellings, furniture, and household utensils, along with two irrigation canals; evidence that the site had been an oasis town, not an isolated fort. The V&A holds, on loan, from Karadong carpet fragments, silk, woven plant fibres, and spun wool, dating from 200-300 AD.
Six fragments of various shapes and colours, including two rectangular plain woven dark brown wool pieces with hemmed edges and one selvedge; two rectangular plain woven buff coloured plant fibre pieces of which one is paler and has remains of seams; one strip of plain woven red silk with remains of stitching and its edges are folded back; one square clamp-resist dyed wool twill in red leaving repeated pattern of yellow dot rosettes.
Envelope 1: Stein 557 (Ka.I.0014)
Several fragments of plain woven and twill wool and possibly silk.
1. 557a: weft. Wool-cashmere (goat) blend.
2. 557a: warp. Wool-cashmere (goat) blend.[PG]
3. 557b: warp. Silk: physically damaged.
4. 557c: warp. Unidentified animal fibre: severe wear.
5. 557d: warp (main piece). Wool-cashmere (goat) blend.[PG]
6. 557d: warp (band). Cotton: deteriorated.
7. 557d: sewing thread. Silk: physically damaged.
8. 557e: warp. Wool blend, possibly with cashmere (goat undercoat).
Dye analysis for Box D, layer 1:
557a: 2.2 twill resist-dyed in red on buff ground.
557b: red 2/2 plain weave, red dyed after weaving.
no identification on sewing threads.
557c: beige 2/2 plain weave with repair.
557d: beige 2/2 plain weave with ribbon on side and
2nd plain weave below.
557e: coffee 2/2 warp-faced plain weave.
557f: possibly same as 557e.
Envelope 5: Stein miscellaneous for Desrosiers and Debaine
1. 557c: weft. Almost certainly mohair (angora goat). [PG]
2. 557d: weft (main piece). Wool, Hairy medium type, white.
Textile group 557 has seen considerable wear. Most of the samples, including yarns of silk, cotton and animal coat fibre, show signs of physical damage, including the rounded fibre ends and multiple fibrils which indicate abrasive wear (Cook and Lomas 1990, 220-2). Most of the animal coat fibres were probably available in the hinterland of Karadong.
The coat of the Asiatic domestic goat, Capra hircus laniger, is likely to be the source of the ordinary goat fibre and the fine cashmere, but the single example of mohair (557c) will have come from the angora goat, C. hircus aegagrus. The angora goat is nowadays associated with western Asia, especially Turkey, but it originated in Central Asia (Wildman 1954, 112), and another example of mohair, along with domestic goat fibres and cashmere, has been identified in carpet fragments from northern Afghanistan dated to the 3rd or 4th century CE (author’s unpublished work on textiles from the Al-Sabah Collection of Islamic Art, Kuwait, report dated 30 October 2000).
The coat of the Asiatic domestic goat has a fine undercoat combined with medium-diameter hairs and coarse kemp fibres. The undercoat can be combed from the fleece, to give the fibre known as cashmere, although this often incorporates a small number of hairs. Mohair, from the coat of the angora goat, Capra hircus aegagrus, has fewer fine and coarse fibres than ordinary goat and has a distinctive lustre.
Domestic goat was identified from (i) fine, non-medullated fibres with a prominent waved-mosaic scale pattern and smooth distant margins, a mode (most common measurement) of around 15 microns and (ii) fibres in the region of 30-70 microns with continuous and fragmented medullas and a closer scale pattern, often with areas of rippled-crenate pattern. Cashmere was identified by the presence of (i) type fibres with a small number of type (ii). They were blended with sheep’s wool in several of the yarns of 557, 1/1:557a, 1/2:557a, 1/5:557d and possibly also 1/8:557e.
A single example of mohair was identified, weft yarn 5/3:557c, from its slippery feel in the hand, its smooth profile, lengthways streaks or vacuoles in the cortex and its narrow range of diameters, 15-35 microns. The scales were not prominent, but where visible they were irregular waved mosaic with smooth margins, and there were areas with rippled-crenate margins on the coarser fibres. Mohair can be pigmented, but this sample was white.
Wool was used for the weft yarns 5/2:557d. The fleece type 557d featured very fine yarns, except that the coarsest fibres were absent and may have been removed by combing. The records based on 80 fibres (two yarns each contained approximately 40 fibres) were as follows. Hairy Medium fleece type: range 15-67, mode 20, mean±S.D 25.3±9.0, coefficient of skew +0.76 (skewed to positive), 6% medullated fibres (no kemp), no pigmented fibres.
Wool had been blended with other fibres in several yarns. It was combined with cashmere in 557: 1/1:557a (weft), 1/2:557a (warp), 1/5:557d (warp main piece), and probably also 1/8:557e (warp).
Cotton was identified in a single sample, 1/6:557d, from its twisting, ribbon-like fibres, elongated air bubbles and fine spiral markings. The fibres were frayed and many of the fine fibrils that indicate wear-damage were present (cf Cooke and Lomas 1990, 220).
Silk was identified from its smooth profile, fine fibres, 7-10 microns across, and triangular cross-section. Sample 1/3:557b (warp) had fibrils and other signs of wear damage. Sample 1/7:557d (sewing thread) had an unusually flat section, and the possibility that it was wild silk was therefore considered. Comparison with modern specimens, however, indicated that it was just a variant (possibly low-grade) of de-gummed cultivated silk, from the silk moth, Bombyx mori.
It was not possible to obtain a secure identification in 1/4:557c warp and 3/10:537 pile, because of heavy wear-damage on the surface of the fibre.
[from "Fibres in samples from Kardong, Taklamakan Desert (Stein excavation)" by Penelope Walton Rogers, 16 November 2007]
Clutton-Brock, J., 1987, A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals (Cambridge: Cambridge UP & London: The British Museum)
Cooke, B., and Lomas, B., 1989, ‘The evidence of wear and damage in ancient textiles’, in P.Walton and J.P.Wild (eds) NESAT III: Textiles in Northern Archaeology (Textilsymposium in York), 215-226, London: Archetype
Wildman, A.B., 1954, The Microscopy of Animal Textile Fibres, Leeds: WIRA
These fragments of various shapes and colours, including wool and silk pieces, were recovered from the site of Karadong. It is unclear what these textiles would have been used for, although they are likely to have had a decorative purpose as well as utilitarian function. Karadong, possibly a fortified frontier post, dates from the 3rd to the 4th century AD. Textiles from Karadong are of a utilitarian rather than decorative type.
The site is part of an area of Central Asia we now call the Silk Road, a series of overland trade routes that crossed Asia, from China to Europe. The most notable item traded was silk. Camels and horses were used as pack animals and merchants passed the goods from oasis to oasis. The Silk Road was also important for the exchange of ideas. Whilst silk textiles travelled west from China, Buddhism entered China from India in this way.
These textiles were brought back from Central Asia by the explorer and archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943). The V&A has around 650 ancient and medieval textiles recovered by Stein at the beginning of the 20th century. Some are silk while others are made from the wool of a variety of different animals.