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Onfim (1220 AD)

"One of the most fascinating archeological finds in Russia has been the discovery of hundreds of birchbark documents (messages written on the bark of birch trees with a sharp stylus) that were created from the 11th to the 15th century.

The birchbark documents of Novgorod are a major source for information about life in Medieval Novgorod because they are not the writings of church theologians or political leaders, but rather, personal messages, IOUs, love letters, shopping lists, and so on.

One of the most fascinating items is a collection of children’s drawings that have been unearthed.

How could they have survived to the present day? After all, finger paints, magic markers, and crayons were not yet in use, paper was far too valuable a commodity to waste on children… Most of the products of childhood inspiration probably were expressed on the ephemeral canvas of dirt or sand.

But birchbark was a different story. The bark was widely available and easily cultivated. Anyone could use it. When one was finished with the message, it was simply thrown into the mud, where the presence of water and clay created an unusually bacteria-free environment which preserved the documents. 

The drawings from Novgorod appear to all have come from a Russian boy named Onfim, who lived at the end of the 12th century or beginning of the 13th century in the city of Novgorod.

By the estimate of the archaeologists who unearthed his works, he was around seven years old at the time that he made these drawings.”


In the first image above, “Onfim started to write out the first 11 letters of the alphabet in the upper right corner, but got bored and drew a picture of himself as a grown-up warrior impaling an enemy with his spear. To remove any doubt about the identity of the warrior, he even labeled the person on the horse as Onfim.” 

In the last image above, where you can see the original birchbark, Onfim ”drew a picture of himself as a wild beast (which he identified by writing I am a wild beast over it). The apparently friendly beast carries a sign which reads Greetings from Onfim to Danilo – Danilo (or Daniel) presumably being Onfim’s schoolmate.”