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The first birch bark manuscript discovered in Velikiy Novgorod

26 July 1951

On July 26, 1951 at Nerev pit the Novgorod archaeological expedition led by Soviet archaeologist A. V. Artzihovsky discovered the first writing on birch bark which listed different feudal obligations.

The fact of using a birch bark for writing in ancient Russia was known quite a long time ago from the works of medieval authors as well. It was mentioned for example by the church and political personality of the second half of XV century – beginning of XVI century Iosif Volotsky. However up to 1951 only single foreign language texts had been found (writing in English of 1570, the Golden Horde document of XIV century).

 The very first ancient Russian birch bark writing – a short letter by commoner who lived in XV century – was found during the excavations in Novgorod. The excavations were undertaken by the expedition of archaeologist A.V. Artzihovsky from 1932 but only in 1951 the archeologists reached Nerevsky region of the city. Right there between the blocks of pavement flooring of ancient of Kholopy street in layers of the end of XIV century on July 26, 1951 a participant of the expedition N.F. Akulova saw a long-awaited piece of a birch bark writing with Russian text. By the end of field season the expedition discovered nine more similar documents.

Later a birch bark writings were discovered during the excavations in Moscow, Pskov, Smolensk, Old Russa, Tver, Torzhok, Vitebsk, Mstislav, Zvenigorod Galitsky. Today their number has exceeded one thousand. The most ancient birch bark writings are dated of the first half of XI century and the most recent ones of the middle of XV century.

Discovering of birch bark writings opened a new page in the study of the Russian language history, expanded the notion of scientist of the life particularities of a medieval person. Unlike ancient Russian annals, the texts of birch bark writings are completed with everyday life details. The most of the writings are letters, but among them could also be found different rolls, edicts, rough copies of documents, study exercises, alphabets, charms, text of religious character. The fact that most of the documents are written in ancient Russian usual language results from everyday life subject area.

Birch bark writings considerably changed traditional ideas about literacy expansion degree in ancient Russia. Among their authors and addressees along with priests, high officials, house owners and merchants there are seniors, stewards, craftsmen, warriors, women, children, etc. In experts’ opinion the cultural layers of Novgorod hide about 20 thousand more birch bark writings of ancient Russia.

Lit.: Арциховский Α. Β. и Тихомиров М. Н. Новгородские грамоты на бересте (из раскопок 1951 г.). М., 1953; Арциховский А. В. Археологическое изучение Новгорода. М., 1956; Берестяные грамоты : 50 лет открытия и изучения = Birchbark documents : 50 years of discovery and study : Материалы международной конференции, Великий Новгород, 24-27 сент. 2001 г. / Под общ. ред. акад. В. Л. Янина. М., 2003; Берестяные грамоты // Библиотека литературы Древней Руси. Т. 4. XII век. СПб., 1997; То же [Электронный ресурс]. URL:; Жуковская Л. П. Новгородские берестяные грамоты. М., 1959; Зализняк А. А., Янин В. Л. Берестяные грамоты из новгородских раскопок 2005 г. // Вопросы языкознания. 2006. № 3. С. 3-13; Момотов В. В. Берестяные грамоты — источник познания русского права XI-XV вв. : дис. ... к. ю. н. Краснодар, 1997; Тюняев А. А. Берестяные грамоты как документ // Организмика. 2009. 01 июня. № 6 [78]; То же [Электронный ресурс]. URL:; Хорошкевич А. Л. Открытие новгородских берестяных грамот в историографическом контексте начала 50-х годов XX в. // Берестяные грамоты: 50 лет открытия и изучения. М., 2003, С. 24-38; Черепнин Л. В. Новгородские берестяные грамоты как исторический источник. М., 1969; Янин В. Л. Я послал тебе бересту... М., 1975; То же [Электронный ресурс]. URL:; Янин В. Л., Зализняк А. А. Новгородские грамоты на бересте : Палеография берестяных грамот и их внестратиграфическое датирование. М., 2000.

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