Birch bark document

Birch bark document

A birch bark document is a document written on pieces of birch bark. Such documents existed in several cultures. For instance, some Gandharan Buddhist texts have been found written on birch bark and preserved in clay jars.

On July 26, 1951, during excavations in Novgorod, a Soviet expedition led by Artemiy Artsikhovsky found the first Russian birch bark writing in a layer dated to ca. 1400. Since then, more than 1,000 similar documents were discovered in Staraya Russa, Smolensk, Torzhok, Pskov, Tver, Moscow, Ryazan, although Novgorod remains by far the most prolific source of them. In Ukraine, birch bark documents were found in Zvenigorod, Volynia. In Belarus, several documents were unearthed in Vitebsk and Mstislavl.

The late discovery of birch documents, as well as their amazing state of preservation, is explained by a deep culture layer in Novgorod (up to eight meters, or 25 feet) and heavy waterlogged clay soil which prevents the access of oxygen. Serious excavations in Novgorod started only in 1932, although some attempts had been made in the 19th century.

Although their existence was mentioned in some old East Slavic manuscripts, the discovery of birch bark documents ( _ru. берестяна́я гра́мота, "berestyanáya grámota") significantly changed the understanding of the cultural level and language spoken by the East Slavs between 11th and 15th centuries. About a hundred styluses have also been found, mostly made of iron, some of bone or bronze.

According to Valentin Yanin and Andrey Zaliznyak, most documents are ordinary letters by various people written in what is considered to be a vernacular dialect. The letters are of a personal or business character. Some documents include elaborate obscenities. Very few documents are written in Old Church Slavonic and only one in Old Norse. [
Birch-bark letter no. 292, Oldest known Karelian language text. (First half of 13th century)]

The document numbered 292 from the Novgorod excavations (unearthed in 1957) is the oldest known document in any Finnic language. It is dated to the beginning of the 13th century. The language used in the document is thought to be an archaic form of the language spoken in Olonets Karelia, a dialect of the Karelian language. [] For details and full text, see Birch bark letter no. 292.

ee also

* See the Old Novgorod dialect article for samples of some texts
* Bryggen inscriptions, documents of the same age found in Bergen, Norway
* Wiigwaasabak – birch bark scrolls of the Ojibwa people
* Walam Olum
* Midewiwin


Yanin, Valentin L. (Feb 1990). "The Archaeology of Novgorod". "Scientific American", p.84. Covers, "History, "Kremlin of Novgorod", "Novgorod Museum of History", preservation dynamics, and the production of 'Birch bark documents'." This article contains examples of birch bark documents, styluses, and photographs.

External links

*The University of Chicago [ Slavic Department] has a [ page] with a number of photographs of Birch bark documents and Old Novgorodian artifacts.
*ru icon [ Online library of 956 Russian birch bark documents and modern translations]

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