Experimental Archaeology And The Russian Hermit

There is this new type of archaeology which is called, Experimental Archaeology which I would very much like to bring into the country where I’m living, Portugal, because it is a country filled with history and different cultures in a 5000years time frame. Anyway, Experimental Archaeology is what the name says it is, studying a period in history and reconstruct it, it can either be in the place of the archaeological findings, it might be reconstruct an already existing structure or recreate it in a different part. Reconstructing old buildings and settlements using the tools and materials of that time placing everything it was needed to survive and live to better understand how the human being lived life, it helps us to understand the social behavior, the connections they had with other cultures, where did the materials come from, what did they do in the different periods of the year, the type of food they were eating and so on.. This would be very interesting to make in Portugal with the Celtic and Lusitanian settlements, or the Germanic structures to the North or even the similar type of Norse settlements along the northern and central coast of Portugal, not even to mention the thousands of megalithic structures all over the country. But I’m getting off the topic now.

So speaking of Experimental Archaeology, in Russia a 24 year old man is spending eight months living completely alone in thr harsh freezing Russian wilderness, in an attempt to reconstruct the life of a 10th century hermit, it is part of a social experiment as well as Archaeological one. The project started in September and it is expected to run until the end of May. The man is caled Pavel Sapozhnikov, from Moscow, and he can only abandon the project if his mental or physical health is at serious risk, or if by any way his life is under threat. The dangerous thing is, even if contracts an illness, for example, lung infection, he is expected to carry the project on as his ancestors would have done a 1,000 years ago.

This isn’t an easy task, Sapozhnikov is living in the replica of a 10th century farm house placing in a forest clearing around 50 miles north of Moscow. With the help of the expert archaeologist, Alexander Fetisov, the farm was built using only materials and techniques that would have been used by ancient Russians. Obviously this includes fire lights that burn on linseed oil, wooden beds, animal fur clothes and bedding and calendar scratched into the wall of the house. Sapozhnikov is only allowed to leave the fenced-off area of the farm to hunt and gather food. His is banned from any kind of communication and he can only use authentic tools that were used in ancient Russia.

He is already been living there for six months but the real challenge is during the cold harsh Russian winter season, a time when temperatures in the region can drop as low as minus 30ºC. This period of the year was deliberately chosen to highlight exacly how difficult Russian ancestors would have been living and hunting in these 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.

Sapozhnikov starts his morning by milking his goats, collecting eggs, butchering chickens for food and eating breakfast, follwing by chopping wood and collecting water from the well, and when the season calls for it, gathering mushrooms from the near by forest. The rest of the day is spent either hunting for food or carrying out manual labour on the farm. This also includes insulating the house with manure, maintaining his house and outbuildings, and other tasks around the farm.

Of course Sapozhnikov wasn’t sent to this mission with lack of information, he spent months learning how to prepare animals and how to live in these conditions. He also became skilled in using ancient tools and familiarised himself with ancient fire-building and washing techniques with the help from the 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 own body, although, because water is scarce there, clothes and body washing is carried out infrequently.

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