Carpet weaving is by far the most widespread handicraft in Iran; it is also the best known one abroad. The origins of the carpet date back to antiquity: texts and carv-ings tell us that the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians owned carpets, as did the Achaemenians in Persia. The oldest known knotted carpet was found at Pasyryk in the Altai (Siberia) and is thought to have been made in Persia around the fifth century BC. Despite the existence of this ancient example, little is known about the subsequent history of the carpet in Iran until the 16th century. Traditionally, carpets were made by the nomadic tribes, whose herds of sheep and goats provided them with high-quality, durable wool. The sale of this wool, either untreated or in the form of textiles and carpets, was for a long time one of the major sources of income for the nomad communities.
In the Safavid period, an entirely new development revolutionized the production of Persian carpets: until this period, the manufacture of carpets was carried out on a relatively small scale by geographically dispersed groups, but as royal manu-facturers and independent workshops opened up in the large urban centres it grew into a national industry. Carpets
began to figure among Persian export products to Europe, India and even the Ottoman Empire. Under the influence of contemporary miniature painting and Chinese and Arabic designs, new motifs were created. Gradually, hunting scenes, animals, flowers and figures were added to the older, purely abstract or stylized designs.
In addition to the carpets produced in the urban workshops, there existed an important production of tribal carpets, often less well known abroad. Qashqâi, Turkomans- in particular the Yomut and Tekke tribes-Afshâr, Shâhsevan and Bakhtiâr each had their own motifs and styles. Certain designs, transmitted from generation to generation, are very old; they are reproduced from memory without the use of a model or a design cartoon. Carpet weaving was one of the most important tasks for nomadic women and was taught to girls at a very young age. The carpet held such economic importance for the group that a woman's ability to weave was a major criterion in the choice of a wife.