The Karakul may be the oldest breed of domesticated sheep. Archeological evidence indicates the existence of the Persian lambskin as early as 1400 B.C. and carvings of a distinct Karakul type have been found on ancient Babylonian temples. Although known as the "fur" sheep, the Karakul provided more than the beautifully patterned silky pelts of the young lambs. They were also a source of milk, meat, tallow, and wool, a strong fiber that was felted into fabric or woven into carpeting.
The Karakul is native to Central Asia and is named after a village called Karakul which lies in the valley of the Amu Darja River in the former emirate of Bokhara, West Turkestan. This region is one of high altitude with scant desert vegetation and a limited water supply. A hard life imparted to the breed a hardiness and ability to thrive under adverse conditions, which is distinctive of the Karakul sheep to this day. Karakuls were introduced.to the U.S. between 1908 and 1929 for pelt production. With a growing interest in the fiber arts in the United States, there has been an increased interest in the Karakul sheep. It is a specialty breed that is finding its niche as part of the cottage industry. The fleece is seen in a variety of natural colors. In its native region the colors are called by the following names; Arabi (black), Guligas (pink-roan), Kambar (brown), Shirazi (grey) and Sur (agouti). Occationally individuals are white or pied. This is partially due to its multiple uses: fur, fleece, and meat, along with the qualities of hardiness and adaptability. Today there are small farm flocks scattered throughout the U.S.
The Karakuls differ radically in conformation from many other breeds. They are of the fat broadtailed type of sheep. In their large tail is stored fat, a source of nourishment, similar in function to the camel's hump. The narrow appendage below this fat sack is often recurved, giving an S shape. Karakuls are medium-size sheep. The rams will weigh between 175-225 pounds and the ewes range from 100-150 pounds. They stand tall, with a long, narrow body. The top line is highest at the loin with the rump long and sloping, blending into a low set broadtail. The head is long and narrow, slightly indented between the eyes and often exhibiting a Roman type nose. The long ears are always pointing downward and slightly forward and vary from a long U shape to small V shape, or may be entirely absent. The long neck is carried semi-erect.
It is the wool from which the art of felting evolved.