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Turkmenistan belt,PetertheGrtMuseum

There was a long discussion about whether carnelian belts of this type were worn only in the Balkans or also by Turkmen. This is a picture of the belt from Peter the Great's Museum of Anthropology & Ethnography in St. Petersburg that is marked as Turkmen. I've been researching it ever since your lively discussion. I found it at http://masterpieces.asemus.museum/materpiece/detail.nhn?objectId=12512. It's described as being made of cow leather, brass, iron, silver, carnelian & paint & marked as TURKMENISTAN, 20th century. "In their art, the Turkmen have preserved the traditions of the steppe style, its austerity & laconicism. A typical feature of the Turkmen works of art is a combination of massive silver plates with carnelian insertions that look as if they are lit from the inside. In Turkmen jewelry, carnelian was widely used to decorate various types of objects, as this stone bore a number of positive symbolic meanings. Such girdles were part of a festive woman's dress." Notice that the description says "Turkmenistan" and "woman".
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  • This doesn't mean that a curator at the Peter the Great museum did not mis-mark this piece as being from Turkmenistan.  However, since Russia controlled the "stan" countries for a long time & museum curators are usually very knowledgeable, I think we can assume the description is correct. 

  • as you correctly say we can "assume", but it is not the first time that museum curators "mismark" some of their items!!

    That turkmenistan obsession seems to simply originate from the fact that carnelian was heavily used in jewelry from this country

  • interesting research result but the attribution to the turkmen is in this case is fragil.

    i dont see any turkmen influence outof the presence of carnelian as mentionned.

  • We're not really sure about that, however.  Also, the Peter the Great museumdescription was very well written & scholarly sounding.  I just sent an email to a major Turkmen scholar about these belts.  Let's see what he answers.  The large ethnic jewelry collection I curate actually started about fifteen years ago with Turkmen & Bukhara jewelry, so I used to know quite a bit about this subject.  Then I became VERY obsessed with Tibetan, Mongolian & Nepalese jewelry and convinced my collector to go in that direction.  So, for about ten years I have been living in Tibet in my head & reading only Tibetan literature.  My apartment looks like a Tibetan library!  The discussion about these carnelian belts on Ethnic Jewels, however, brought me back to my origins & now my Turkmen side is emerging from hiding.  As I was intently researching these belts, I had a visit from a new seller who grew up in one of the "stan" countries.  He had only one important piece to show me.  Guess what it was!  A beautiful carnelian belt, which he said was definitely Turkmen.  He based his research on the picture in the Polish catalogue of a carnelian belt wrapped around a suit of Persian chainmail.  Because I generally only buy for one collector, I don't buy pieces for stock like most dealers. This was just too much synchronicity, however, so now I am the owner of a superb carnelian belt that is sitting on my coffee table & begging me to resolve its origins.  So, if any of you have NEW information, please let me know.  One clue may be where carnelians were mined in the 19th century, but I don't yet know the answer to that.

  • I have no new information, Lynn, but I do agree with those who think that it is in fact extremely unlikely that the piece was made in Turkmenistan. This one in the Peter the Great museum - which I think you had already found previously described as Turkmenistan (was it in a book?) - so far stands out, in my awareness, as the only one which, in a respectable place, has been designated as such. All others which I have seen - and in one way  or other they add up to quite a few - are associated with, and often designated as coming from, the Balkans, and there are several similarities with belts quite definitely made there (in the Balkans, I mean). I do think that the original IDEA of using large carnelians probably came ultimately from the Turkoman, but the end product is unlike a Turkoman piece. The appeal of the "Turkoman carnelians" was of course well known to various people in the Ottoman empire, and it does not surprise if they were used by Ottoman jewellers in a significantly different geographical area. I have otherwise probably said all I could in various previous posts: in general, they all point in the direction of a Balkan origin (where a great many of them have been found and housed), and none - other than this one - is listed as Turkoman in any truly knowledgeable source which I know of. On this point I would remain, so far, quite unconvinced that there is a case for revision. I think that Linda, who is more in favour of all-female wear than I, also is strongly aware of the Balkan origin of these pieces, and Udo Gangl, who collects them, has also stressed that. They are found in a large number of countries that are either part of the Balkans or near the Balkans - but not in Central Asia. As to the question whether these were worn by men and women the issue remains still somewhat unresolved: it is more a matter of emphasis than a question of dogmatism, I think - it does seem that women did use them, but the question is how often they did so, and under what circumstances. One of the main arguments, I think, for the idea that they were in any case worn on a large scale by men would be that (a) many are very large, and (b) there are a great many in existence, usually very similar to each other. The size is one thing, but the uniformity, I think, is also very important: it would be unusual for very large numbers of women to wear in essence all the same belt, but quite logical for officers to do so. Traditionally, they have in Europe been associated with the Arnauten army, and one would think that there would be a reason for that. Even so, we may never get to the bottom of the matter. So far, my  position is as follows. ORIGIN: Balkans, and almost certainly NOT Turmenistan or near. USE: likely enough by both sexes, but the issue is not clear enough to come to a definite opinion. I am far more confident about the question of origin than that of use. I agree wit ait ouakli, below, that there is no Turkoman influence other than the carnelians. I originally was inclined to have faith in the Polish catalogue which you mention, but have largely lost it, as a result of the comments of others. The photo in that catalogue is just about the ONLY source which people use in making claims about these pieces. Carnelians were probably not difficult to procure, as the abundant use of them in Turkoman jewellery shows. Incidentally, quite a few of these belts seem to be earlier than 19th c. The Peter the Great example, which you show above, does not look convincingly 20th c to me. Many of these belts were worn for a long time, and several  old ones clearly are very early. That, incidentally, suggests to me frequent use by officers rather than occasional ceremonial use by women. Udo shows some of those very old ones on Facebook. He mentions several as also occurring in museums in Austria etc. and is positive on the Arnauten tradition. Alas, he is hard to get hold of, or to get more info from.

  • Just some additions: looking at the piece above very closely I think it is not among the earliest, but I still doubt that it would be 20th c. And UDO GANGL can indeed be found on Facebook. I suggest you look him up, Lynn, on FB and prod him to give you more info. Linda and I have separately tried him out, but even if he initially responds he does not seem to "deliver" on promises of more material! He did point out to me, though, that they are described as Arnauten belts (so as "army wear", used in the Balkans, where the Arnauten - Albanian soldiers - protected the Ottoman rulers). Also, that they are generally so described in several places including museums in Austria (where he lives) and other countries. He really seemed to have no doubt on that score at all, and he does collect these belts with some seriousness. He showed some on Facebook (they are probably still there), including a few obviously very ancient ones. He really ought to tell us more, and I strongly suggest you encourage him! If you state that you need the info as a curator that may make it harder for him not to "come through"!

  • The fact that a belt has an old tag with in correct information doesn't prove that the belt is from that area.  It is why I was hired at the mets Costume Institute, to correct all the old excession information. There were dozens of people like myself and others who work as student labor or as an assistant to curators to do this type of research and obviously this belt was missed. Even at the Met back when I was there in the 70's I found that belt listed as Serbian , at the time my friends had one which they assumed was Turkmen also  because of the use of carnelians.

    When donors give material to the museum and some times they dont know themselves where a piece is from and or it is assumed by the museum staff that the piece is from that region, mis information gets handed down.  Much in the same way as that incorrect description in the Nomads of Eurasia book.  I think when one sees a dozen or more  references to the belts coming from serveral neighboring countries , non of which are inhabeted by Turkmen  , and as well through many publications of Turkmen jewelry one must deduce that it is not Turkmen, since non but that erronious mistake in one book claims to attribute these as Turkmen. Besides the obvious which is the metal work and technical way in which the belt is created has nothing to do with Turkmen workmanship.

    One can say as well the groups living in Serbia, Hungry and Yugoslavia were all coming out of steppe culture of one sort or another and the point is that they influenced each other. The workmanship and the style of this belt are very closely related to the metal work of this region and not that of Turkmen. Even if you look at ancient sights in Turkmania and Kazakhstan the work is unlike this in the construction which is the most important aspect. The leather making also , as a combined structure of layored thickness is not a Turkmen belt structure. Leather on those, was left hide inside and thin pelts which were not made thicker by layoring them. The whole stucture of eveything is entirely different. Pieces were added by stringing them on, not by pinning and pins were not made of brass but of silver and of loops.


  • An excellent contribution, Linda, but let us be clear that this particular belt is not in the Met. It is in the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology in St Petersburg. So it was not "missed" at the Met, but it appears that noone in St Petersburg has ever checked what is clearly a mistaken description. You are certainly right to indicate that incorrect descriptions at the Met are not uncommon. Even if one checks matters on-line one soon becomes aware of that fact. Did you come across a wrongly described belt of this kind there? Anyway, the simple fact is that on more than one occasion people have assumed that these belts are Turkoman for the simple reason that they contain similar carnelians to those found on Turkoman pieces. But as you say, in all important other respects these belts differ entirely from Turkoman pieces, and closely resemble pieces made in the Balkans (including belts without carnelians but otherwise of similar make-up - belts which noone would ever think of designating as Turkoman). When all is said and done the assumption that these belts are Turkoman is ignorant and demonstrably mistaken - it should be seen as entirely unscholarly. Your post states all the important reasons why.

  • I never said it was at the Met. I said I worked at the Met and the reason I used that line of reasoning is that many museums miss things.  Just because it's in Russia is by no means any different. If you think about it and look through many books on ethnic jewelry from there, many museums claim ownership to various styles of jewelry even if it's from other then their own district. Human error is human error and because of one piece of incorrect data that gets put on something it is then assumed the item is what it is.  Don't forget , Russian curators see allot less then we do, their internet activities are also not as developed, or are their abilities to talk with other curators in other museums.  They are unlike western museums in that for a long time the government run museums were under cashed and these curators toiled endless on their own specialties mostly.  Since the Russian empire was expansive, many items get thrown into the mix that otherwise are incorrectly labeled.  i have Russian museum publications describing African items as being Yakut !  So I'm not sure I buy that line of reasoning that just because  it is from a museum it's always correct, unless the collection data supports this theory , which in this case a label with no other explanation does little to convince me. 

  • As I read your post again, Linda, I guess that you mean that this belt was "missed" at St Petersburg by those who might have picked up the fact that it was wrongly described, whereas at the Met you or others found no such misdescription of a belt like this but you came across one described as Serbian. Is this what you intended? I assume as much, but think we should be clear on that score. Your points about the differences between Balkan  and Turkoman manufacture are entirely correct, as is what you say about frequent occurrence of these belts in the Balkans and their being always recognised there as being of local origin. Similarly so in the case of western countries outside the Balkans. *Nomads of Eurasia* is wrong, and exceptional in being so.

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