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To the right is a Turkmen gol, known as tauk nauska, found main carpets made by many groups.

While not nearly as ubiquitous as chemche, it also was extensively used and appears in both early and later examples. Exclusively used as main and almost never as minor gol, or an ancillary element, the four double-headed animals often with head-crest are its primary feature. These quadrupeds do occasionally turn up in some other guises but these, too, are extremely rare and solely found in very early examples.

The illustrated tauk nauska gol is from an archaic period Chodor main carpet. Specifically this carpet is believed to belong to a recently identified, highly specialized, small group of weavings known as P or pseudo-Chodor. This classification is based on several characteristic that are not featured in other Chodor weavings.

This designation is controversial but since the tauk nauska icon is the issue, and not the P Chodor classification, this is not the time or place to take up that argument.

There is no doubt animals and stock-breeding were extremely important at all times for the Turkmen, this preoccupation finding expression in all aspects of their weaving culture -- the tauk nauska being one of the most obvious. Some readers might question why this iconic design has animals with two heads and frankly there is no positive answer we can supply.

That said it is apparent the Turkmen viewed the world as animistic and pantheistic, a place where the supernatural existed side by side with ordinary existence. It is clear some of their weavings were imbued with important complex content and connotation, the two heads on this gol most likely part of this outlook. Also the dynamic balance of opposites might as well be involved. There is little doubt this spiritually defined view of existence can be documented in a number of ways and icons like tauk nauska were undoubtedly part of this over-arching paradigm. Perhaps on a more mundane level the double head was a manifestation the near eastern concept of mother and child, the hope for stock-bred profundity or an invocation of ancient hunting magic.

Another feature some readers might question is the lower animals being upside-down and the upper ones right-side up. According to its proponents this is a main feature of the P Chodor group but others believe the upside-down are dead and the right-side up ones alive. One thing is sure this version is much less common than having them face one direction, or depicting tauk nauska animals without heads, as is sometimes seen in later, post-classic period examples.

While trying to define its meaning is speculative its place in history is not. So let’s now illustrate some early textiles that place the tauk nauska into its rightful historical framework.

There are a multitude of early silk road textiles with quadrupeds but trying to find close parallels narrows the field considerably. The example below, which is another Stein discovery from Cave 17 in Dunhuang, is believed to be the earliest textile from that cache and is dated by the British Museum to the 3rd- 5th century AD.

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Pairs, and double pairs, of animals can be seen in many other early textiles but this textile is key, a veritable lynch pin. The double pair of affronted quadrupeds, their head-crests, the (unusual) eight sided rondel that is comparable to the tauk nauska octagon and an iconic running dog border instead of the usual the pearl border seen on early animal textiles single-handedly establish undeniable historical context. Once again the implications a textile like this carries demonstrates not only the tauk nauska but many other Turkmen icons developed within parameters long extent in western Mediterranean, central Asian and western Asian silk route related iconography.

The fallacy designs were transferred from the imperial courts of the 15th-17th centuries to the village and clan weavers, i.e. from large-scale to small-scale societies, has long been present in carpet and textile studies. Evidence, like that presented here, nullifies that old paradigm. It is far more apparent the complex iconography on early Turkmen pile woven rugs was generated and developed within, and from, the same melting pot as the textiles and pile woven rugs produced in the court sponsored atelier and manufactory long believed to have been their source.

Let’s move on to discuss some other equally interesting early textiles with tauk nauska to further demonstrate this fact.

Another exceptionally early and evocative fragment is shown below. It was discovered by Sir Auriel Stein at Loulan, another early silk road site abandoned in the beginning of the 7th century A.D.

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The pairs of graceful affronted, beige colored, animals on a blue ground, in negative space, are somewhat abstractly rendered but they are nonetheless unmistakable, so are their head-crests. Another interesting feature is the figure/ground, negative space, where the blue background space between the two beige animals can be read as a two-leaf flower that’s similar to elem plants discussed earlier.

A Coptic period textile with addorsed animals and head-crests enclosed in a hexagon is shown below.

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We date it circa 4th-5th century; the early prototype multi-color pearl border and the long thin staff-like symbol the animals flank are features not seen in later Coptic period weavings, the proto-pearl border being extremely rare.

Below is another animal with head-crest in a hexagon but unlike the previous one that is woolen, or the first done in silk, this one is linen. Unlike any of the others it has an inscription of pseudo-kufic script that dates this weaving to the first half of the 11th century.

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Another early Egyptian textile with paired, facing, head-crested animals placed in separate octagons is illustrated below.

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It is made of linen and also has an inscription. However, this inscription is not pseudo-Kufic script and deciphering it positively dates this weaving to the reign of the Egyptian ruler Caliph al-Zahir, circa 1021-1036.

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Lastly we offer the following textile with two versions of paired animals in grid-gol format; notice animals are alternately portrayed front-facing and addorsed.This textile and the others support ideas the tauk nauska and many other equally significant icons found in Turkmen weaving were conceived and developed within a framework of time that previously spawned such relevant documents made of silk, linen and wool.

 

     

     
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