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Pavel Sapozhnikov as a 10th century Russian hermit.

Pavel Sapozhnikov: Experiencing Life as a 10th Century Russian Hermit

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2014 was certainly a year to remember for a then-24-year-old Russian man. He spent eight months of that year in a social experiment. The purpose? To experience what life was like for a 10th century Russian hermit living in the freezing wilderness.

Pavel Sapozhnikov, from Moscow, was only permitted freedom from the project running from September through May if his mental or physical health was deemed unfit to continue or if his life was threatened. Illness was expected and had to be dealt with as if he contracted a disease back in the 10th century.

Living as a hermit in the harsh Russian winter.

Living as a hermit in the harsh Russian winter. ( Casaejardim)

The task laid out for Sapozhnikov was certainly difficult. He had to live his hermit life in a replica of a 10th century farm house 50 miles (80.47 km) north of Moscow. The house was built according to archaeologist Alexander Fetisov’s directions and was created with materials and building techniques available to ancient Russians. Fire lights that burn linseed oil, wooden beds, animal fur clothes and bedding, and a calendar scratched into the wall – these became the elements of daily life for Sapozhnikov.

Layout of the farm

Layout of the farm. ( Citydesert)

If Pavel Sapozhnikov was hungry he was allowed to seek sustenance outside the fenced-off farm, but only in what he could hunt or gather. No communication with the rest of the world was allowed and he was only permitted to use tools that people would have had on hand so long ago.

The biggest challenge arose as the harsh Russian winter fell and temperatures could drop as low as minus 30°C.  But that difficult season was chosen on purpose - to get a clearer picture of how difficult life could be for Russian ancestors from that time.

Events manager Alexei Ovcharenko of the Ratobor agency set up the experiment as part of a project called ‘Hero.’ The goal of the research was ‘to trace the social and psychological changes in personality and learn how important the support of others is to modern humans.’

Eight months was seen as enough time to test this, without causing any possible ‘pathological danger’ to Sapozhnikov. Nonetheless, his status was checked up on monthly by a medical expert and the project leader. Other than that visit, the young man lived in solitude.

A typical day for the hermit began with milking his goats, collecting eggs, butchering a chicken, and eating breakfast. Then he would chop wood and collect well water. The rest of his day was spent working on the farm or hunting. If Sapozhnikov was on the farm, he would insulate the house with manure or spend time maintaining the buildings.

The ‘Russian Hermit’ collecting well water.

The ‘Russian Hermit’ collecting well water. ( Citydesert)

Pavel had to prepare for the project. He spent months learning about animal husbandry, becoming skilled with using ancient tools, and listening to archaeologists explain how to make an ‘ancient-style’ fire and wash his clothes as his ancestors would have.

Pavel Sapozhnikov had to learn how to make fire as his 10th century ancestors would have.

Pavel Sapozhnikov had to learn how to make fire as his 10th century ancestors would have . (Casaejardim)

For example, Sapozhnikov found that if he wanted hot water he had to heat stones in the stove until they were glowing then place them in cold water. That warmed water could be used for washing cooking utensils, his clothes, his body, and his home. But the scarcity of water meant that would he wash himself and his clothes far less frequently.

The old-style oven

The old-style oven. ( Casaejardim)

Top image: Pavel Sapozhnikov as a 10th century Russian hermit. Source: Casaejardim

By April Holloway

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