The site “Birchbark Literacy from Medieval Rus: Contents and Contexts” has put online all the extant birchbark documents unearthed in Novgorod; as they say, this “will constitute a qualitative leap forward in the development of the study of birchbark documents by laying a reliable foundation for the further research into the texts and rendering the material accessible to an international medievalist audience of different backgrounds.” Thanks to Paul, Claire, and John for alerting me to this!


  1. Tomasz Kamusella says

    It may be an old chestnut, but the English word ‘book’ is of Germanic origin, like the German ‘Buch.’ I am mentioning the latter, because in it it is clearly visible the etymology of the word stemming from ‘Buche’ or ‘birch’ in English. It appears that the use of birch bark for writing was earlier among the Germanic peoples, and one of them, the Varengians (Swedes), introduced this practice to the East Slavonic areas, organized by them into the polity of Rus.
    I wonder though if some Germanic-language documents on birch bark survive to this day?

  2. David Marjanović says

    German Buche = English beech.
    German Birke = Englich birch.
    There is at least one birchbark letter from Novgorod written in runes.

  3. David Marjanović says

    Oh, on the etymology: Runes cut into beechwood staffs were used for soothsaying. “Beach staff” in modern German is Buchenstab; compare Buchstabe “letter” and of course Buch “book”.

  4. “Beach staff”…. Surf life savers? Life guards?

  5. David Marjanović says

    ARGH! I’m confusing homophones like a native speaker! Someone stop it already!!! OUAAAAAH!!!

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