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Persian carpets: 6th century BC

Persian emperors of the 6th century BC are among the first to make a display of lavish floor coverings. Carpets becomes one of the characteristic art forms of people living on the high plateau of west Asia, from Turkey through Iran, where winters can be extremely cold.

They are a particularly important form of wealth and comfort for the nomadic tribes which live in these regions and in the steppes to the north. One of the earliest true carpets to survive (woven with a knotted pile, and Persian in origin) belongs to a tribal ruler in about 500 BC. It is discovered in his frozen tomb at Pazyryk.

Lacquer: c.500 BC

The Chinese discover that the sap of a tree, Rhus vernicifera, has unusual qualities. It can be applied in successive layers to wooden objects, such as dishes and boxes, and each layer can be hardened by exposure to moisture.

The resulting surface, so hard that it is not corroded by acid, can be brought to a very smooth polish, or decorated with gold and silver dust, or delicately carved to reveal the successive layers beneath. This technique of lacquer, adopted also in Japan by the 6th century AD, provides one of the most highly valued commodities of the orient.

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