Birch Bark Day

There is a very special holiday on 26th of June in Novgorod, one of the oldest historical cities of Russia. Seventy years ago in 1951, the archaeologists found here the first birch bark related to the 14th century. Birch bark manuscripts are documents written on pieces of the inner layer of birch bark.

Since then many new birch bark texts were discovered and now the collection includes over 1200 artefacts, dated 9th-16th century. Their digitalised images can be seen on the website where the pictures in this post were taken from.

This technology of writing is not unique for Russia. It was known as far back as the first century AD, before the advent of mass production of paper. It was spread in Afghanistan, India, Nepal and other regions. However, Novgorod letters are very good preserved and could be thoroughly investigated.

Most Russian birch bark texts are private letters of a business nature (debt recovery, trade, household instructions). They are written in old dialects. This source is unique for the study of everyday life in Ancient Russsia. The birch bark writings testify to the wide spread of literacy in ancient Russia. The townspeople learned the alphabet from childhood and wrote their own letters. Women were also literate. The family correspondence of the Novgorod inhabitants testifies to the high position of a woman who sent her husband orders („orders“). They also entered into money relations on their own. Novgorod’s birch bark writings show that a woman could conclude contracts, act as guarantor, appear in courts on financial matters, and engage in some profitable business, such as craft or usury activity.

Although officially the holiday has a local status, the Birch Bark Day event itself is without exaggeration of world significance.