A day in the life of an ancient Russian hermit
A 24-year-old man in Russia is spending eight months living alone in the freezing Russian wilderness as a 10th century hermit as part of a social experiment. The project began in September and is expected to run until the end of May. The only way Pavel Sapozhnikov, from Moscow, can abandon the project is if his mental or physical health is at serious risk, or his life is under threat. Even if he contracts an illness, such as a lung infection, he is expected to carry on – as his ancestors would have done over 1,000 years ago.
The task is not an easy one – Sapozhnikov is to live in the replica of a 10th century farm house in a forest clearing around 50 miles north of Moscow. With help from expert archaeologist, Alexander Fetisov, the farm was built using only materials and techniques that would have been used by ancient Russians. This includes fire lights that burn on linseed oil, wooden beds, animal fur clothes and bedding and a calendar scratched into the wall of the house. He is only allowed to leave the fenced-off area of the farm to hunt and gather food, is banned from any kind of communication, and can only use authentic tools from ancient Russia.
Although Sapozhinikov has already been living in the house for four months, his real challenge is now, during the harsh Russian winter, when temperatures in the region can drop as low as minus 30°C. This time period was deliberately chosen to highlight exactly how difficult Russian ancestors would have found living and hunting in the conditions.
The experiment is part of a project called ‘Hero’ and was set up by events manager Alexei Ovcharenko from agency Ratobor. The theory behind the experiment is ‘to trace the social and psychological changes in personality and learn how important the support of others is to modern humans.’ Ovcharenko added that eight months is long enough for the experiment to yield results, but not too long that it will 'pathologically endanger' Sapozhnikov. However, a medical expert and project leader does visit him once a month to check on his progress.
So what is a day in the life of an ancient Russian hermit really like for Sapozhnikov? Well, he starts his morning by milking his goats, collecting eggs, butchering chickens for food, and eating breakfast, following by chopping wood and collecting water from the well. The rest of the day is spent either hunting for food, or carrying out manual labour on the farm. This includes insulating the house with manure, maintaining his house and outbuildings, and other tasks around the farm.
To prepare for the mission, Sapozhnikov spent months learning how to prepare animals, including chickens (he was given a small amount of harvested food at the beginning of the project, but this supply was not designed to last the length of the experiment). Sapozhnikov also became skilled in using ancient tools and familiarised himself with ancient fire-building and washing techniques, with help from archaeologists. For example, to produce hot water, he must place stones in his fire stove until they are glowing, before putting these stones into a bucket of cold water. He then uses this water to wash his clothes, cooking utensils, his home, and his body - although because water is scarce, clothes and body washing is carried out 'infrequently.'
The project leaders have not yet reported how Sapazhnikov is coping with the experience, whether he is enjoying the challenge, or buckling under the strain of isolation and harsh conditions. We will report back on the outcomes of the ‘experiment’.
Watch video of Sapzhnikov on his farm (in Russian)
Featured image: Sapozhnikov tends to his farm house. Photo credit: EAST2WEST