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, caracul
1. a breed of sheep of central Asia having coarse black, grey, or brown hair: the lambs have soft curled usually black hair
2. the fur prepared from these lambs
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(from Karakul’, an oasis on the Zeravshan River, Uzbek SSR), pelts taken from lambs of the Karakul breed on the first to third day after birth. Karakul sheep have unique wool: it is thick, resilient, silky, and glossy and forms compact curls of various shapes and sizes (cylindrical, bean-shaped). The most valuable pelts have cylindrical curls, growing concentrically parallel or in straight lines. The cylinder and the bean curls are most often located on the sacrum and the back; other areas of the pelt are covered with less valuable curls (narrow manes) or defective (rings, half-rings, pea-shapes, and spirals) and deformed ones. Lambs with long cylindrical curls have even, glossy, and silky hair and a thin compact flesh side, which makes the pelts light and tough; they are the highest quality karakul.

Karakul lambs are predominantly black in color (an average of 80 percent); there are also gray lambs (12–15 percent) in several shades from light gray to dark gray and colored ones— sur, brown, white, pink, and mottled. The gray karakuls with blue and silver tones are most valued, and silver and gold (Bukhara sur) and bronze, platinum, and amber (Surkhan-Dar’in sur) are the most popular colored pelts. New natural shades of karakul are being developed.

The pelts are preserved by rubbing the flesh side of the hides with table salt, by keeping them in salt for seven to ten days (dry-salt preservation), and by drying. Dry-salted skins are then fermented by chemical and microbiological treatment with special mixtures of liquid barley-flour dough with salt and leavening from lactic-acid bacteria; they are then dressed and dyed. The only pelts that are dyed are the black and sometimes brown pelts with uneven shading.

There are All-Union State Standards for karakul. Black karakul has the largest number of varieties. The four groups—jacket, flat, ribbed, and Caucasian—have two grades each. Pelts are no smaller than 500 sq cm, and the large ones can exceed 1, 100 sq cm. The most valuable karakul is in the jacket group: jacket grade 1, kirpuk, and heavy jacket, used for jackets and coats. The other groups are used to manufacture collars, hats, and other fur products.

Its beauty, toughness, and lightness keep karakul in great demand in the USSR and abroad; it is an object of international commerce. The principal suppliers of the world market are the USSR, Afghanistan, and southwestern Africa. The major trade centers are Leningrad, London, and Leipzig. Annual world production of karakul is approximately 10 million pelts.


Karakul’skie smushki. Moscow-Leningrad, 1932.
Ivanov, M. F., and V. M. Iudin. Al’bom karakul’skikh smushkov. Moscow, 1933.
Kantsepol’skii, A. S. Al’bom karakulia i smushki. Moscow, 1962.
Kuznetsov, B. A. Karakul’ i smushka. Moscow, 1955. Karakulevo-smushkovoe syr’e. Moscow, 1966. (Collection of standards.)

N. S. GIGINEISHVILI [11—1149—2]



(Turkic, “black lake”), a landlocked lake in the northern part of the Pamirs, in the Tadzhik SSR. Area, 380 sqkm; length, approximately 33 km. It is situated in a basin at an altitude of 3, 914 m, surrounded by high mountains. Lake Karakul’ is divided into two parts, joined by two narrow channels. The western half reaches a depth of 236 m, and the eastern, 22.5m. The saline water permits visibility to a depth of 9 m. It is covered with ice from late November through April. Summer temperature of the water is about 12°C. The most important rivers flowing into the lake include the Karadzhilga, Karaart, and Muzkol.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.