A sad tale of a Medieval traveler has emerged from the historical center of Moscow as archaeologists unearthed a rare letter written on birch bark.
Dated to the 14th century, the manuscript was found in a district close to Red Square by a team of the Russian Academy of Sciences who dug 13 feet down. They retrieved hundreds of objects that provide new information about life in Moscow in the Middle Ages.
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The letter, by an unknown author, is addressed to "Sir" and recounts the troubled trip of an unnamed individual.
Birch bark as writing surface was popular in Medieval Russia. The first birch bark manuscripts were found during archaeological excavations in Velikiy Novgorod in the 1950s.
Since then, more than 1,000 manuscripts have been discovered in Novgorod, dating from the 11th to the 14th centuries. The find suggests the humble Medieval inhabitants there had an unusually high level of literacy.
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Letters were produced by scratching the inner surface of a strip of birch bark; texts included everything from "I owe you" notes and birthday greetings to contracts, letters and children's drawings.
While birch bark manuscripts were found in large numbers in Novgorod, only three letters have been discovered in Moscow until now and only one contains a detailed text, which was mainly an inventory.
The newly found letter, the fourth found in Moscow, was written by an unknown author and was addressed to "Sir."
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The manuscript recounts the misfortunes of an unnamed individual. Headed to Kostroma, a city about 217 miles north east of Moscow, the individual and other people were detained by someone, "who had the right to do so," possibly an official.
The authority took from the unlucky traveler a lot of money. We do not know what happened afterwards, but it seems unlikely the penniless travelers reached their destination.
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The full text of the letter, his linguistic and literary properties are now being studied.
"In a sense, this is the first real manuscript that meets the criteria for the Novgorod standard – that is, a private letter written on a strip of bark which follows the literary tradition of the 14th century," Leonid Belyaev, head of the archaeology department at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said.