The Iceman's Birch Basket

The versatility of birch bark has made it a staple building material for centuries among various North American and Eurasian cultures, and today is still popular with designers. This natural component, when removed from the tree, is cardboard like in composition, light, flexible, strong and water resistant. These features allow the bark to be easily cut, bent and shaped or flattened, and sewn into whatever form the carpenter desires. One of the earliest examples of birch bark being used is when explorers discovered Otzi, the Iceman in the mountains near the border of Italy and Austria in 1991. Having lived in 3300 B.C.E., he was found with various tools and personal possessions. Among the Iceman’s possessions were two cylinder birch bark baskets, used by him to carry fire starting provisions. These unique objects for transporting supplies were made from a single sheet of bark that had been stitched together with natural fiber to create a cylinder shape. A round piece of birch bark was then stitched to the bottom of the cylinder structure and used to serve as the base of basket. Today craftsmen still assemble decorative baskets and objects from birch in a similar style, as had been done by Otzi, the Iceman over 5,300 years ago. Birch bark has as well seen a resurgence in popularity amongst interior designers and architects for its versatile and naturally sustainable style and flexibility in decorating.