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.
Plain woven creamy brown wool with darker bands attached to fragment of pile carpet.
Length: 42 cm, Width: 18.3 cm
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.
Stein suggests that the fragments may originally have been part of a coat or carpet.
Two fragments made of plain woven creamy brown wool with darker creamy brown bands. One short edge of the larger fragment is woven in dark brown alternating with creamy brown wool creating a checkerboard pattern edged with pink bands. Parts of selvedge intact. A narrow pile carpet fragment is attached along one side of the larger fragment. This fragment is made of hand-knotted creamy brown woollen pile on cream coloured wool warp and weft. The back of the whole piece shows remains of original layer of felted cream and brown wool, attached with string.
Dye analysis, Stein.537_Ka.I.0016:
Fragment in weft-faced plain weave with red and yellow and geometric black and beige design.
Envelope 3: Stein 537
1. 537: warp (main piece). Camel.
2. 537: weft white (main piece). Goat, white.
3. 537: weft black (main piece). Goat, dark brown.
4. 537: weft red (main piece). Goat, white, dyed.
5. 537: weft yellow (main piece). Goat, white, dyed.
6. 537: weft beige, S (main piece). Poorly preserved,
probably wool-cashmere (goat).
7. 537: weft beige, Z (main piece). Wool blend,
possibly with camel. [PG]
8. 537: warp (pile piece). Wool blend, possibly with goat.
9. 537: weft (pile piece). Goat, white.
10.537: pile (pile piece). Not identified: very worn animal fibre.
11.537: felt (brown). Wool, from brown sheep.
12.537: sewing thread. Goat, white with some dark brown fibres
Envelope 5: Stein miscellaneous for Desrosiers and Debaine
1. 537: felt: (cream). Wool, Hairy Medium type, white with some
Most of the animal coat fibres were probably available in the hinterland of Karadong. The Bactrian camel, Camelus bactrianus, for example, is native to the desert regions of Central Asia (Clutton-Brock 1987, 124), and is a more likely candidate than the dromedary, C.dromedarius, of western Asia, although the two sources cannot be distinguished by microscopy. Camel hair is not a common textile fibre, but it has recently been discovered in a 1st-century CE textile from Masada, Israel, where it was also used in a coarse plied yarn, as at Karadong (author’s unpublished work, on behalf of Hero Granger-Taylor).
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 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 brown sheep’s wool came from a primitive fleece. Most of the present-day sheep of Central Asia and western China appear to be white, black, or white with a black head, but some brown breeds occur, such as the Turki and Hazaragi of Afghanistan (Ryder 1983, 272). Until more fleece types have been identified in samples from Asia, it is not possible to say what wools are local to particular regions.
Sheep’s wool was identified from (i) the range of fibre diameters, (ii) the cuticular scale pattern, which was irregular waved mosaic with smooth margins, and (iii) the cross-sections, which were circular-to-oval.
The fleece was predominantly white with some tan fibres in 5/1:537 and uniformly brown (moderately pigmented) in 3/11:537. In 5/1 the fleece type was identified as a primitive Hairy Medium fleece type, based on the following records taken from 100 fibres (measurements of fibre diameters are in microns): range 11-129, mode 19, mean±S.D 29.0±22.2, coefficient of skew +1.05 (skewed to positive), 11% medullated fibres (of which 2% kemp), 4% moderately pigmented (tan).
Wool was tentatively identified as a blend with goat/cashmere in 537, in 3/6: 537 (weft, beige, S) and 3/8:537 (warp, pile piece). It was also possibly combined with camel hair in 3/7:537 (weft beige, Z).
The coat of the Asiatic domestic goat, Capra hircus laniger, 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, (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, and (iii) wide, flat kemp fibres with latticed medullas with thick struts. These features were found in several of the weaving yarns of 537, 3/2, 3/3, 3/4, 3/5 and 3/9, and in the sewing thread, 3/12:537. They were white, apart from the densely pigmented weft yarn, 3/3:537, and the sewing yarn 3/12:537, which was white with some dark brown fibres.
Cashmere was identified by the presence of the fine fibres described above, type (i), with a small number of type (ii). They were blended possibly with sheep’s wool in 3/6:537 and 3/8:537.
Camel may have been blended with wool in the beige weft yarn, 3/7:537.
It was not possible to obtain a secure identification in 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)
Ryder, M.L., 1983, Sheep and Man, London: Duckworth
Wildman, A.B., 1954, The Microscopy of Animal Textile Fibres, Leeds: WIRA
This plain woven woollen fabric is attached along its side to a piece of pile carpet. It was recovered from the site of Karadong, possibly a fortified frontier post, which dates from the 3rd to the 4th century AD. Textiles from Karadong are of a utilitarian, rather than decorative type.
The site is also 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.
This textile was 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 from the Silk Road 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.