Inside the Collection

Fact or fiction using forensic science in conservation

Knitted Russian horse cover 1907
2000/67/1 Horse cover, knotted pile weave, wool, Tekke Turkmen, Russian Turkestan, 1907. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Trying to date an object can be a challenge particularly if it has been in the collection a while with little background information. Now there are a few ways of identifying the origins of an object. In this case we have determed the age of a textile by identifying the red dye.

The age of a woven woollen horse hair blanket was questioned and the analysis of its red dye was used to determine its age.
Turkmen weaving is distinguished by glowing red dyes in a variety of shades and traditionally produced with madder (a natural vegetable dye) although another possibility was that it was dyed with Ponceau 2R a synthetic dye initially manufactured from 1880.

The red dye was analysed directly on the surface of the blanket using a Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) Spectrometer, this absorption spectra provided information about the chemical bonds and molecular structure of the material. The dye absorption spectrum was also compared to a set of standard dyed textiles samples. Using these methods the red dye was identified as Ponceau 2R.

The inscription and date woven along the upper edge are very rare as Turkmen do not usually sign or inscribe and date their weavings. The inscription may be translated as ‘Sahib Mohammed Alcomar [ ] Adena 1324 (AD 1907)’. Although the inscription on the blanket proved to be difficult to translate, with the red dye identification it can be assumed that the blanket was woven by Tekke Turkmen women in western Turkestan about 1907.

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