Birchbark scrips and Russian Graffiti.

Once again thanks to the wonders of archaeology, we are able to recover artifacts such as birch bark writings and graffiti embedded into the deep layers of walls in several cathedrals in Russia. There are approximately 700 different birch bark writings that have been found around modern day Russia. Embedded deep in many meters of damp soil these scripts can be extracted. The dampness is responsible for the preservation of the writings. (p-71) Although we are able to clearly see characters inscribed in the birchbark, they are very tricky to read as they come in small fractions of a whole. (p-71) From these various writings that can be anything from a simple business note or a doodle to an intimate letter we can take away how they ate, what the currency was, and what they wore. (birchbark script n-384, p-72)

The other form of writings recovered from ancient Russia, graffiti, can be found on the deep layers of cathedral walls. These writings were very brief and most of the time the authors name is rarely revealed. Likewise, dates that can not be unveiled can be dated by a reference to a god, like in the case of #10 inscription.  (p-72) On the surface of the walls, the naked eye could only see a normal wall, however during restoration periods the graffiti was uncovered.

Discussion questions post reading…

1.) What type of people would be writing these birchbark scripts? For instance, businessmen and bureaucrats were most likely able to write, but who were responsible these random doodles? What percentage of the population could read and write? My assumption is that birch bark wasn’t very hard to come by, so was everybody writing?

2.) How well do the stories in the chronicle line up with the grafiti in the cathedrals? why is this so critical to what we know about Russian history.


As forewarned, this was a pretty dry reading on the whole, but riddled with demographic trends. For some reason I really enjoy studying demography, so although the reading was dry I managed to maintain some focus, but I digress. Reading this article, at least for me, was the first time I was really able to see the differing ethnicities that comprise(d) Russia. the demographic knowledge at the author’s disposal, Kappeller manages to differentiate between these ethnic groups with this demographic knowledge because it is what the author had to work with to explore these differences. For example, Kappeller writes about how many different ethnic groups, after years of mobilization, began to urbanize. Kappeller writes, “In the case of ethnic groups which for a long time had performed the function of mobilized diaspora groups within the Russian Empire, the degree of urbanization was considerably higher than the 13.4 per cent average… this was true of the Germans (23.4 per cent), the Armenians (23.3 per cent), the Greeks (18 per cent) and, to a lesser extent, of the Tatars…” (287). Russians surprisingly only ranked eleventh on this list of diasporas, although it is important to note that many of the ethnicities mentioned in Kappeller’s work that were part of the Russian Empire during the period examined weren’t always part of the Russian Empire and aren’t today, or aren’t in nearly as great a force (i.e. Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tadzhiks, Lithuanians, Latvians [Kappeller mentions Riga in the reading, which is the present day capital of Latvia]. If Kappeller were to survey present-day Russia in the same fashion, what demographic results would he come up with? Kappeller even admits to the difficulties of this endeavor, mentioning present day Belarus (Belorussia-Lithuania) and Ukraine as contributing to his difficulties.             I feel like it’s very important to point out that Kappeller points his focus towards urban areas because, although not Kievan Rus’, I imagine it would still be much more difficult to come across demographic documentation regarding rural areas than in urban areas, because urban areas are where most of the knowledge and politics of the land spawned from. If Kappeller pointed his focus more towards predominately rural areas, again, I wonder, what results he would find? I’m guessing he’d have a lot of trouble.

Another point that Kappeller inexplicitly makes that I think we often overlook in class is how huge Russia really is, and how the time period we’re examining didn’t have the technological luxuries. What I’m referring to is Kappeller’s examination of Siberian communities that were seemingly weren’t phased by the urban developments that defined western and South-Western Russia. These communities went unphased because they were so monumentally far away from western Russia that it would be impossible for the Siberian communities to have the same development as those in Western Russia.