Today, Google is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the birch bark manuscript. On July 26, 1951, during excavations in Novgorod, a Soviet expedition led by Artemiy Artsikhovsky found the first Russian birch bark script in a layer dated c. 1400.
Since then, more than 1000 similar documents have been discovered in Staraya Russa, Smolensk, Torzhok, Pskov, Tver, Moscow, Ryazan and Vologda, although Novgorod remains by far the most prolific source. In Ukraine, birch bark documents were found in Zvenyhorod, Volyn. In Belarus, several documents were exhumed in Vitebsk and Mstislavl.
Dated to the 14th century, the manuscript was found in a neighborhood near Red Square by a team from the Russian Academy of Sciences who dug 13 feet deep. They have recovered hundreds of objects that provide new information about life in Moscow during the Middle Ages.
Found in Veliky Novgorod – one of the oldest cities in Russia about 120 miles from St. Petersburg – the birch bark manuscript unearthed in 1951 contains a brief list of work assignments addressed to a local worker. This groundbreaking discovery turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg, as over 1,000 manuscripts have been discovered across Russia since, some dating back to the 11th century!
Prior to the 1951 excavations, historians relied primarily on ancient Russian records to color gray areas of medieval history, but these documents did not illustrate details of everyday life. The birch bark writings filled these gaps in incredible detail, telling tales from children to high-ranking officials. Thanks to these artifacts, researchers now believe that the ancient Russians had a much higher literacy rate than previously thought and discovered a new old Russian dialect.
Today, experts estimate that tens of thousands of birch bark writings remain under Russian soil.
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