Tatiana Krupa, a Ukrainian archaeologist, historian, and restorer, has extensive experience studying fragments of fabrics that date back to the Golden Horde era. She has done work on fabrics that have been found on the territories of both modern Kazakhstan and Ukraine. This land was once home to Scythians and a lot of textiles were imported from China—particularly silk. In this interview, she talks about her finds and discoveries, as well as her recreation of the costume of a Golden Horde princess.
Researcher at the Research Laboratory of Experimental Archaeology and Head of the YMAI International Research Laboratory of Pavlodar State Pedagogical University,
For several years, you have been studying fragments of fabrics found in Kazakhstan that date back to the Kimak-Kipchak and Golden Horde times. You have examined around 100 samples found in Pavlodar province. Tell us about these fabrics—what are they like (in terms of structure, decoration, color, and dye composition)?
I have been studying Kazakh textiles since 2009, when I first came to Kazakhstan. My studies are not limited to archeological textiles. I studied samples of a unique and one-of-a-kind historical textile taken from the old coverlet of the legendary Sufi leader Akhmet Yasawi. I took these samples and studied them more closely in Kharkiv, Ukraine, where at that time I was the head of a small grant at V. Karazin Kharkiv National University. The results that we obtained allowed us to establish when the mausoleum and the khanaka were built.
As for my studies of archaeological textiles and Kimak-Kipchak and Golden Horde-era finds from the Irtysh Steppe, I first saw these textiles in March 2018, when I went to the international forum “Izdeu” and met with my current colleagues. These materials affected me so strongly that in June 2018 I went to Pavlodar for a month to study them. And in 2019, at the invitation of the Pavlodar Pedagogical University, I moved from Ukraine to Kazakhstan.
Since then, I have managed to get acquainted with and study materials from the Irtysh Steppe region and beyond. Among the most interesting finds of the Golden Horde era in Kazakhstan, it is worth highlighting finds from the excavations of the Bolgan Ana mausoleum, which is part of the complex of Dzhuchid mausoleums of Ulytau. These fabrics are all very different! There are fabrics of simple weave, there are brocades, there is damask… Their colors: red and yellow, polychrome… The vast majority of these fabrics are silk. However, this is not surprising. After all, silk is the most durable fabric in terms of preservation in archaeological sites.
Bolgan Ana mausoleum is part of the Ulytau National Historical, Cultural and Natural Reserve-Museum in Karaganda region of Kazakhstan. It also features the mausoleums of Zhoshi Khan and Alash Khan, Zhuban-ana, Duzen, Ayakkhamyr, Dombaul, Khan Ordasy, as well as nine medieval settlements and fortified settlements.
In one interview, you said that the fabrics found in Kazakhstan are similar to those found during archaeological excavations in Ukraine. Tell us about these fabrics—do they also date back to the Golden Horde era? And where in Ukraine were they found?
I am a citizen of Ukraine, and as mentioned above, I moved to Kazakhstan because of my Kazakhstani colleagues’ interest in my research. I am very grateful for this!
I have been working with archaeological costumes and fabrics since the second half of the 1980s. As a historian and archaeologist of antiquity by education, until 2008 I worked on the excavations of Tauric Chersonesus. Antique costume is also the topic of my diploma. And since I am also a bit of a fashion designer, sooner or later I took an interest in archaeological textiles. At one time I worked in the Kharkiv branch of the National Restoration Center of Ukraine. Therefore, many archaeological fabrics from finds in Ukraine passed through my hands. These include materials from the Bronze Age, and Chernigov, and Chersonesus, and the monuments of the Saltov period (8th-10th centuries), as well as materials from the excavations of the burial grounds of the late medieval nomads (11th-14th centuries) found on the territory of Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, and Zaporozhye region. All of them have been analyzed and the studies published.
Interesting material was also provided by the Ust-Alma burial ground, which dates from the first centuries AD and is associated with Crimean Scythia. For example, the material found in one of the graves made it possible to make a graphic reconstruction of women’s costume of that time. I remember that when I worked with these materials back in the second half of the 1990s, I was struck by the cut of the sleeves and the seam with which women’s costumes were made. An interesting headdress, a calaf, was also found there. It was very fine work!
Scythian textiles from earlier times are also known to us—for example, a red woolen fabric from the barrow of the Caravan barrow group near Kharkiv. Both the barrow and the fabric date from the 7th century BC. I think that the fabric was imported.
Among the interesting finds of the Scythian period, one can name white linen fabric from the mound Bliznets-2 (on the outskirts of the city of Dnipro), which researchers associate with Orik Arimastides (a representative of the royal Scythians). This fabric covered the top of the wooden structure of the burial chamber.
Very bright textiles come from the Middle Ages! I want to note that the centers of textile production (judging by the finds) clearly correlate with the geopolitical interests of that time. For example, at ancient Russian sites (Chernigov or Novgorod-Siversky), we find fabrics of Byzantine production. Silk silver brocade from Chernigov is well known. A feature of this find is the presence on the fabric of an interesting bone button wrapped in silk. If we talk about the monuments of the Steppe belt, which correlate with the nomadic component, then there is Chinese-technology silk. Such finds are familiar to us from the monuments of the Saltovian time (8th-10th centuries), including the Netailovsky burial ground (Kharkiv region), or the Golden Horde time (Zaporozhye or Dnipropetrovsk regions).
The Kazakh finds echo existing material from the rest of Eurasia. And this should come as no surprise: all textile production is related to the functioning of a single entity, namely the Great Silk Road.
Perhaps the most extensive collection of archaeological textiles on the territory of Kazakhstan is located in Pavlodar. Chief among these are the excavations of T.N. Smagulov, the director of the Margulan Center of Pavlodar Pedagogical University. There are also archaeological textiles of the Kimak-Kipchak period (9th-11th centuries) from the Baidala burial ground (a suburb of the city of Pavlodar). Of interest here is the prevalence of Chinese silk. Even though the mound itself, in which several dozen samples were found, was robbed in antiquity, the remaining finds still allow us to create an impression of the dress that the buried woman wore.
Although research on this material has not yet been completed, we can assume that her dress corresponds to the so-called fashion of East Turkestan and was strongly influenced by the Uyghur Khaganate.
Another interesting finding by our archaeologists was a female headdress from the Mukyr burial site (Pavlodar region). Although the attire itself dates back to the Golden Horde period, after carefully studying it, we came to the conclusion that it is older than the burial site by 100-150 years. Now we are talking about a special type of framed headdresses, which in the Horde period are correlated with the so-called bokka—headdresses of Yuan type. If the latter appeared in our latitudes in the epoch of Ulus Jochi, the find from Mukyr (as well as the famous find of F. Arslanova, the “silver bokka,” which is now stored in Pavlodar) predates it.
Besides Pavlodar finds, I would like to note the unique finds of Kazakh archaeologist A. Kesenalin as a result of the excavations of Bolgan Ana (Ulytau) mausoleum. In this mausoleum, according to scientists, was buried the closest relative of Jochi Khan. Therefore, the study of preserved textiles can shed light on the palace fashion of the Golden Horde. Although the extensive materials themselves are still in the process of preservation, we have made a copy of the preserved elements of the dead woman’s costume from modern materials as close to the originals as possible.
If we are talking about a single type of brocade and silk fabrics circulating across the vast expanse of the Golden Horde, is there any information about who made such fabrics, how, where, and what these fabrics were called? Who wore them?
Who wore them? Given the cost of silk, of course, clothes made from such fabrics were worn by the nobility. In the Byzantine sources of the era of Vasileus Justinian, it is noted that the cost of silk was three times higher than the cost of gold. And even if during the period of Ulus Jochi the market was already more saturated with silks than in the 6th-7th centuries, its cost remained high. In the era of the Horde, we know of several centers for the production of silk fabrics. Such fabrics were made in Chinese trading posts along the main routes of the Great Silk Road—for example, I am currently conducting research that links the current smooth silks in Margilan (Uzbekistan) with the legacy of such production. However, other textile researchers agree that “Chinese technology” does not necessitate their production in China. There are also fabrics of Byzantine origin; indeed, significant space in the famous Byzantine Book of the Eparch is devoted to their production. Such fabrics have been found in ancient Russian monuments, for example in Chernigov. There is another well-known silk production center—Sogd—although not all researchers recognize it as a separate center.
A far more interesting question, in the context of a discussion of ancient brocade fabrics, relates to the technology of manufacturing gold threads. These fabrics are exquisite. Here we know of two technologies: Middle Eastern and Chinese. And they are both fantastic! I have been studying them for a long time using scanning electron microscopy. And in 2009, I was even the head of a grant at the Foundation for Fundamental and Applied Research of V. Karazin Kharkiv National University devoted to this topic. The difference between these technologies is in the way the gold threads are made. Middle Eastern ones are just a strip of metal (with an average thickness of 5-6 microns) made on a thread-base. Chinese threads are made by rolling a strip of metal out on an organic substance (the serous membrane of the intestine of an animal) and only then winding it onto a warp thread. By the way, the average thickness of the metal of these threads, according to scanning electron microscopy, is 0.6 microns.
In the Kipchak Khanate burial site of Guva-2 (Kalmykia), elements of samite costume with images of apostles were found. Finds made of samite (including with the faces of angels and apostles) were also found in other Kipchak Khanate burials (Korotokh, Chechnya, etc.). Do you find samites/aksamites or another type of fabric in your finds? If so, how are they different? Have samites been found during excavations in Ukraine and Kazakhstan? If so, where?
Samites are just a variation of twill fabrics with a pattern. They are well known throughout Eurasia. I have already mentioned the fabrics with which I worked. Of course, there were also so-called samites. At the same time there were a lot of fabrics with golden weft (brocade) and of simple weave. And in Bolgan Ana Mausoleum in Kazakhstan, one can find silk kamka.
It is known that Louis XIV’s clothes were made from spider thread and in 2012 a spider silk dress was woven and sewn especially for the Albert & Victoria Museum. Do you know of any attempts to recreate fabrics similar to those of the Golden Horde era? Perhaps such attempts are being made in Kazakhstan?
Antique written sources mention fabrics (namely linen) made of thread produced by some mollusks. We are talking about linen. This is mentioned, for example, by Josephus Flavius. Silk is different. When we talk about silk, we primarily mean cultured silk, which is produced from the cocoons of mulberry silkworms. But there is also the oak silkworm. Unlike its fully domesticated mulberry colleague (the mulberry silkworm is the only domestic insect in the history of mankind), this wild species has a completely different protein formula of silk. In my practice, I have found such silk once in Ukraine. So Louis XIV was not unique. The materials that date back to the Golden Horde and that I had in my hands are exclusively cultured silk. As for the recreation of fabric, this is complicated. Working with silk is very difficult and requires experience. That is why when silk production centers die, they are not restored.
In 2010, when I first visited Taraz in Kazakhstan, I suggested that silk production could have taken place here in Chinese factories. However, it is not possible either to prove nor to deny this hypothesis. It is connected with the specificity of archaeological sources as such. Simply put, what could archaeologists look for? The cultivation of silkworms? But this is a very simple technology: racks on which mulberry branches and caterpillars are placed. As you know, to find such finds is a rarity. And even finding them is not a 100% guarantee that silk production occurred.
All photos by