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  • Writer's pictureGrace A. Johnson

Guest Post: The Papyrus of Ancient Russia by Abigail Metzger

Y'all, I am so excited to have my friend Abigail back with us for another fantastic guest post! If you haven't read her first, you can do so here!

Abigail is an awesome writer, and her current WIP is set in a fantasy world similar to Ancient Russia--so she's done a TON of interesting research, and she's here to share some of that with us today! Let us know what you think in the comments!

So, without further ado, here's her post!

To begin, I would like to thank the amazing author, Grace Johnson for letting me write this article for her incredible blog; thank you, Grace! This article is based on a single aspect of a broad topic for me: the birch tree. Yes, I know that might sound slightly -or completely- boring to some, but this tree plays a heavy role in my writing and is awesome in many senses. From medicines to boats, shoes to boxes, tea to tar; the birch is a subject to many. But for this article, I’m taking one of the most writerly approaches.

-A Brief History

Birch bark was to ancient Russia and the Slavs what papyrus was to the Egyptians. On July 26, 1951, an expedition in Novgorod discovered the first Russian birch bark writing. Nearly a thousand other writings have been found since. The writings had been preserved in heavy clay and many, when excavated were in surprisingly good condition. They would be anything from receipts to documents of a more formal nature and though rare, even church sermons; but most were ordinary letters between people, giving today an insight to a time and place where little historical documentation on its culture was offered.

And among the writings, styluses made of iron, bone, and bronze were found. These were the main writing tools used in the birch bark writings, letters, and manuscripts. Very few were ever written in ink. The writings and drawings of a young boy from the thirteenth century named Onfim were an incredible find for dear history. Seventeen of seven-year-old Onfim’s works which had been written with a sharp stylus were found. Onfim had accidentally and uniquely crafted a priceless time capsule to Medieval Novgorod. Twelve of his seventeen birch letters had illustrations, including those of warriors, arrows, people, horses, and even one of his father whom he said in the text was a warrior and that Onfim wanted to grow up to be just like him. Onfim also wrote among his school exercises and drawings: fragments of psalms on his birch bark letters.

-How To Make A Birch Bark Letter

Birch bark paper is, without doubt, amazing. And if you’re interested in reliving what it might have felt like to be in those far gone days, writing primitively on birch bark… read on! To be honest, I think birch bark paper is a very whimsical and romantic break from traditional paper, (absolutely no offense to traditional paper, because it’s still a necessary tool). Birch bark paper is kind of like drinking an exotic tea or wielding a quill pen, the aesthetic is irresistible. So step one to making a birch bark paper is to peel a strip/strips of bark from a fallen -but not completely rotted - birch, (since stripping it from a live birch will injure the tree). You may have to strip the bark further to reach the thin paper-like layer depending on what stage of curling the bark was at when it fell. Secondly, you may want to clean the bark if there’s extra dirt on it. Scrubbing it with water and a firm bristle-textured brush or anything you have that you think will clean it, will work fine. But just a warning: though it makes a cleaner surface to write, the more you clean the bark, the more layers of moss and pretty natural details you will lose. Next, you’ll let it dry -or if you didn’t use water, skip this step- perhaps put something heavy on it to keep it flat or it might curl. Heat can help to fix curling, but a little curl isn’t all bad. I can write on curled birch and it will still look beautiful. Then you can either cut and shape your birch paper or leave it as it is, those beautifully ancient-feeling rough edges and all. Now you can either write on it with a ballpoint pen or pencil. Or maybe even experiment and find your very own stylus for your birch letter!

-Uses For Birch Paper

Now, I doubt you need any help in finding uses for birch bark paper if you ever decide to make some, but in case you need a tad of inspiration as I did, here are a few ideas: #1 Poetry, your own or one by a favorite poet. Then either put them in a box or leaving them on your desk. #2 Letters for anybody and any occasion.

#3 Time capsule?

#4 Illustrations and drawings.

#5 A report of seeing a mythical creature from your fantasy story? #6 Or just write something in another language. #7 I know it sounds cheesy, but the possibilities are endless.

This concludes my article and I’d like to take it as an opportunity to thank the awesome Grace once again and you as well for reading! You all have an incredible day!

-- Abigail Metzger

52 views4 comments


Mar 31, 2021

Wow!!!! This is amazing, Abigail!!!!!😀 I didn't know any of that about birch trees, but that's so COOL!!!!!!! I will definitely have to try making the birch bark paper!!! It sound like a lot of fun to make!!!!!!😀 I absolutely enjoyed reading this post!!!! It was awesome!!!!!!😀


Ariel Ramey
Mar 31, 2021

This is so interesting! I'll definitely keep a mental note of this for future worldbuilding endeavors. Thank you for sharing!


Kristianne Hassman
Mar 31, 2021

I love this!! I have always been fascinated by Russia (and I would love to visit it someday), so this really piqued my interest! I had no idea that birch bark writings were so prevalent in ancient Russia. And now I know if I ever find a dead birch, I can use the bark as paper. ;) Thank you so much for sharing, Abigail!


Issabelle P.
Mar 31, 2021

Abigail, I LOOOVED READING THIS!!!! That is sooo interesting and fascinating about birch paper. Did it take you a while to research all of that? That's really amazing, girl!!!!! <333


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