Medieval Birchbark Drawings From Novgorod Show Boy Doodling Pictures With Swords: Will “Onfim” Be Retroactively Suspended?

onfim9smYesterday, I was killing myself in the Shenandoah by climbing “Old Rag” near Luray, Virginia — a six hour rock climb that has left me only semi-mobile this morning. This, therefore, will have to suffice as a belated Father’s Day posting. The picture above may look like every stick drawing of a boy and his father from kindergarten, but it is actually one of hundreds of “birchbark documents” (messages written on the bark of birch trees) from between the 11th and 15th Century Medieval Novgorod in Russia. The documents from love letters to shopping lists are a treasure trove for scientists, giving them insight into the everyday life of people of that age. However, it is the scribblings of the young boy that captivated me the most, including this picture of the boy and his Dad. The drawings from Novgorod come specifically from a Russian boy named Onfim. He is believed to have been around 7. Of course, I expect that Russian school officials in Novgorod will now move to retroactively suspend Onfim.

Birchbark was the poor’s man paper or parchment. People would strip the bark, use a stylist to write on it, and then throw it into the mud or clay to preserve it.

onfim8smOnfim clearly had the same restlessness in class and spent time doodling about shooting arrows and riding horses. On the horse picture, the boy actually wrote his name on the horse.

In one, he writes “This is my Dad! He is a warrior. When I grow up, I want to be a warrior just like him!” Given our trend of suspensions and expulsions of children for drawing guns, I expect Onfim to be now suspended and listed as a troubled child. It appears that the Novgorod school system actually allowed children to draw such things while modern educators have repeatedly suspended students for stick drawings.

10 thoughts on “Medieval Birchbark Drawings From Novgorod Show Boy Doodling Pictures With Swords: Will “Onfim” Be Retroactively Suspended?”

  1. pete9999 – No they would peal the bark off and scribe on the INSIDE of the bark. Then let it soak in mud. We peal Birch bark today for many things including aspirin…

  2. I had read that this technique was indicative that this culture was much more highly educated (or literate) then others even before the Mongol Hordes invaded this area in 13th century CE. One of Onfim’s manuscripts (#210) actually appeared to be a spelling exercise (i.e. homework?). This paper-less technique continued to modern times as the Soviet Union’s prison system was not allowed writing paper for some time. So many used this birch bark method. It appears the ancient Hindus used it too.

    I enjoy Luray VA too. I have been deep down under where you where at Luray Caverns. Very interesting and mysterious place. A must visit location while in VA.

    I’m surprised you didn’t jump on the Russia-bashing bandwagon on the recent alleged New England Patriots Super Bowl Ring theft by President Putin. Slow day huh? (LOL)

  3. Art is one of the least of the least of my abilities. These doodles by a 7 year old are better than any doodle by me. (or at most comparative).

    Except for modern art, I excel at splashing paint on a canvas, staying between the lines have always been difficult for me. :o)

  4. I don’t think there is need to worry about the boy being suspended retroactively. Remember, this is Russia not the US; students there actually have rights.

  5. Barbarian ideology writ large by a little guy, expressing what we conceive of as our “advanced and civilized” foreign policy.

    This is my Dad! He is a warrior” has recently re-emerged from the birchbark past.

    Even though we fancy ourselves as having attained to the level of civilization, writings on our modern birchbark indicates that our imaginations may be the greater part of that proposition.

    We play as if we were the actors in the grafitti 7 year old Onfim was drawing.

    As if our world was warriors with swords fighting as they did 1000 years ago.

    But the difference is stark:

    Fifty years after the Cuban missile crisis, many people find it hard to believe that the confrontation could have pushed the US and Soviet Union to nuclear war. Robert F. Kennedy’s newly released papers remind us why this was the most dangerous moment in recorded history.

    (The Most Dangerous Moment in Recorded History). That the little-boy-Onfim mentality is still alive in a nuclear age, where we have enough WMD to destroy all human life 50 times over, is another perplexing reality.

    The tribal warmonger rhetoric of Onfim’s world is one thing, but to use that same tribal warmonger rhetoric today as if it was way back then is the result of wide-spread delusion.

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