How to Translate a Date Woven into an Oriental Rug
When one encounters dates that are woven into the fields or end borders of Oriental rugs, it should be noted that these dates are generally unreliable. There are several reasons for this:
In the past as is the case today, Oriental rugs were often woven by people who were uneducated and illiterate. Someone may have drawn the date for the rug weaver to copy, and that person may have been only barely literate. It is common to see Arabic numerals reversed, woven upside down, or so distorted as to make the date unreadable when woven into an Oriental rug. Sometimes there is not even the intention of weaving a translatable date but the numerals are added into the weaving of the rug only as a design element - much like Kufic script. There is also the situation of a rug weaver copying a date from an older rug, or in more modern times, intentionally "pre-dating" a rug in order to create an instant antique oriental rug.
Much more commonly dates are altered by Oriental rug dealers in order to add age and perceived value. A small part of the Oriental rug is rewoven to add a date, or a numeral or two of an existing date is rewoven to adding to the apparent age of the rug. Sometimes this only requires the replacement of just a few knots. The widespread practice is somewhat analogous to pouring cheap Scotch into a good bottle.
Deceit runs deep in the Oriental rug business but thoroughness does not always follow so it is possible to detect the alterations by close inspection. Sometimes, merely taking a photograph of the date in the rug will reveal the color discrepancies inherent in a sloppy alteration. A most useful tool is a "black light" for detecting this very common form of treachery. When the light is shined upon an altered date, the different wool yarns will usually show very clearly.
Anytime an altered date is encountered, one can be fairly sure that the dealer is well aware of it. Unfortunately it is probably impossible to prove that the Oriental rug dealer attempting to sell you the bogus rug is the crook that in fact altered the date. There is little consequence for the dealer's dishonesty and that partially explains the widespread practice.
When one finds a date that is thought to be reliable it is still necessary to convert the Islamic date into the Georgian date. The formulas are described below:
Oriental rugs woven and dated in the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries almost always used the Islamic lunar calendar. To convert an Islamic lunar date into the Christian or Georgian date, use this formula:
Because the lunar year is slightly shorter than the solar year, there is an extra one every 33.7 years. It is thereby necessary to divide the Islamic lunar by 33.7 and subtract it from that Islamic lunar date. Then add 622 (the year of the Hegira, Muhammad's flight from Mecca to Medina in 622AD).
A rug date of "1290" converts like this: Islamic lunar date of 1290 minus 38 (1280 divided by 33.7) plus 622 equals the Christian date of 1874.
There can be confusion introduced by some weaving countries switching from a "lunar" calendar to a "solar" calendar in the 1920's. Because the lunar year is slightly shorter than the solar year, a conversion factor would need to be applied to convert an Islamic lunar calendar date to the corresponding Georgian date. However during the 1920's, in an effort to become more westernized, the governments of both Turkey and Iran converted to a solar based calendar, so that the lengths of their months would match the lengths of months in the West. The Caucasus was under Russian jurisdiction since the early 1800's and used the solar calendar earlier, though sporadically, than Turkey or Iran). Year number one was still calculated from the Hegira.
To convert an Islamic solar date into the Christian or Georgian date, use this formula:
Islamic solar date + 622 = Christian date. No lunar conversion factor is used. Note that this conversion is not precisely accurate as the Islamic and Christian new years occur at different times.
For example a date of "1355" converts like this: Islamic solar date of 1355 + 622 = Christian date of 1977.
Three styles of numbers in Arabic calligraphy are illustrated above. Arabic numerals are read left-to-right, as in Western culture.