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Birch Bark Manuscript: Google Doodle celebrates the 70th anniversary of the discovery of a new chapter in Russian linguistics research

Google Doodle celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Birch Bark Manuscript (Рукопись из бересты), a Soviet archeological expedition led by Artemiy Artsikhovsky uncovered the first old birch bark manuscript—a medieval letter inscribed with Old Russian text, on July 26, 2021. The present Google Doodle celebrates the 70th anniversary of this significant discovery that denoted a new chapter in Russian linguistics research and shed new light on the daily life of the Rus people in the Middle Ages.

Birch bark manuscripts (Рукописи из бересты) are documents written on pieces of the inner layer of birch bark, which was ordinarily used for writing before the advent of the mass production of paper. Proof of birch bark for writing goes back numerous hundreds of years and in different cultures.

A Soviet expedition led by Artemiy Artsikhovsky tracked down the first Russian birch bark writing in a layer dated to c. 1400. From that point forward, more than 1,000 comparative documents were found in Staraya Russa, Smolensk, Torzhok, Pskov, Tver, Moscow, Ryazan, and Vologda, even though Novgorod stays by far the most prolific source of them. In Ukraine, birch bark documents were found in Zvenyhorod, Volynia. In Belarus, a few documents were uncovered in Vitebsk and Mstislavl.

Dated to the 14th century, the manuscript was found in a district near Red Square by a team of the Russian Academy of Sciences who dug 13 feet down. They recovered many objects that give new data about life in Moscow in the Middle Ages.

The oldest dated birch bark manuscripts (Рукописи из бересты) are various Gandhāran Buddhist texts from around the first century CE, which are believed to have been made in Afghanistan, likely by the Dharmaguptaka sect. Translations of the texts, generally in Kharoṣṭhī, have produced the earliest known versions of huge Buddhist sacred scriptures, including a Dhammapada, talks of Buddha that incorporates the Rhinoceros Sutra, Avadanas and Abhidharma texts.

Sanskrit birch bark manuscripts composed with Brahmi script have been dated to the first few centuries CE. A few early Sanskrit journalists, like Kālidāsa (c. fourth century CE), Sushruta (c. third century CE), and Varāhamihira (sixth century CE) notice the utilization of birch bark for manuscripts. The bark of Betula utilis (Himalayan Birch) is as yet used today in India and Nepal for writing sacred mantras.

Russian texts found in Veliky Novgorod have been dated to around the ninth to fifteenth century CE. A large portion of those documents are letters written by different individuals in the Old Novgorod language.

The Irish language’s native writing system Ogham, sometimes called the “tree alphabet”, was figuratively created by Ogma who prescribed birch to Lugh, warning him; the text of this proscription can be found in the Book of Ballymote. The first letter of Ogham is beith; beithe signifies “birch”.

Found in Veliky Novgorod—one of Russia’s oldest cities around 120 miles from St. Petersburg—the birch bark manuscript (Рукопись из бересты) uncovered in 1951 contains a brief list of working assignments addressed to a nearby worker. This breakthrough discovery proved to be only the tip of the iceberg, as more than 1,000 manuscripts have been found across Russia since—some dating back to the 11th century!

Before the 1951 excavation, historians generally depended on old Russian archives to color in the grey areas of medieval history, yet these records didn’t delineate the minutiae of everyday life. Birch bark writings filled these gaps with fantastic detail, chronicling accounts from children to high-ranking officials. Because of these artifacts, researchers presently believe old Russians had a lot higher rate of literacy than previously thought and have found a new Old Russian language.

On July 26, 2021, Google featured Doodle on its homepage for celebrating 70th Anniversary of the Birch Bark Manuscript (Рукопись из бересты).

Today, specialists estimate a huge number of birch bark writings stay under Russian soil.

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