24-year-old Pavel Sapozhnikov is putting himself through one of the most epic socio-psychological experiments in history. He is trying to replicate the lifestyle of his Russian ancestors from around the year 1100, and practicing an ascetic lifestyle with very little human contact for the entire duration of the experiment.
The project began in September 2013 and should run on until May this year. The essence, according to Pavel, is to live on the replica of an ancient farm, devoid of any modern conveniences or communication. “I live alone in the past,” he wrote.
‘Project Hero’ is the brainchild of Alexei Ovcharenko, from the event management agency ‘Ratobor’, which translates as ‘A Mighty Man’. Ratobor, founded in 2006, has conducted several projects and events exclusively based on historic experiences. They proudly declare on their website: “We often do not agree with the vision of the customer and dictate what the event should be. But in our history, we haven’t received any negative reviews about the quality of our corporate programs.”
Alexei and Pavel discussed Project Hero for about a year before its commencement. Together, they froze upon its goals – to make significant observations in two major fields: history and psychology. They hope to trace the social and psychological changes in personality and learn how important the support of others is to modern humans.
The time frame of eight months was chosen because it is long enough to test several hypotheses, but not too long for Pavel to experience serious pathological effects. Winter was the season of choice because of the scarcity of resources and the number of challenges it raises against survival.
The farm that Pavel lives on is located in an isolated forest clearing. It was constructed using only the same technology that was available in 10th century Russia, according to archeological finds and ethnographic data. A layout of the farm on the Ratobor website shows a fenced-off area containing a main house, a well, a hayloft, a smokehouse and a separate toilet.
The farm rules are pretty strict – only authentic tools, equipment and food (found in ancient Russia) are permitted at all times. Pavel will have a limited supply of harvested food; he is expected to obtain his own food by hunting, gathering and fishing in the forest (the only time he is allowed to leave the farm). He has a total ban on communication except during the Open Days held once a month when Pavel exchanges notes with the team of experts and scientists monitoring progress.
Permission to evacuate the premises is given only in case of a real threat to his life. That is, if he breaks a limb, contracts a blood infection or in the event of any other real emergency. A horn will serve as a signal in such cases. But if he gets the flu, or a sprain or lung disease, he will simply go on with life as people did in the past. According to the Ratobor website, it’s important to follow these rules because full compliance will ensure the scientific credibility of the project. They want to exclude as many external factors as possible that might influence the course of the experiment.
Pavel is a citizen of the modern world with no prior experience of living in such conditions. To prepare himself, he studied a lot of information and practiced ancient skills beforehand. “This can hardly be called a comfortable life by today’s standards, but for a trained person it is quite possible,” the website writes.
As a part of Project Hero, Pavel was given an opportunity to describe one day of his life with a camera and a notepad. The material he collected was published on a blog. The pictures depict his current lifestyle – his dark and cool house, an early medieval nightlight that burns on linseed oil, a hand-scratched, rudimentary calendar, and more.
He is seen wrapping his legs in narrow strips of cloth to keep warm at night. He checks on his livestock first thing in the morning before milking the goat and having breakfast. Then it’s wood-chopping time, followed by drawing water from a well. Since the weather cooled, he has also been forced to insulate his wooden house using manure. You get the picture. Pavel spends the rest of the day doing more physical labor until it’s time to go to bed again. Seriously, the amount of work he’s doing just to get one meal ready is insane. I couldn’t imagine putting myself through so much labor without dropping dead from exhaustion.
Pavel shares some interesting tips, like how to tell if a chicken is ready to eat or not and how to butcher a whole bird. Given his new lifestyle, the smallest of things seem to matter now. He treats eggs with reverence, storing them very carefully so they don’t crack. For hot water, he throws hot stones (from the fire stove) into a bucket of water. Then he uses it to wash his shirt and himself.
It takes ridiculous amounts of determination to be able to live like this. I know I could never do it. Which is why I admire Pavel, and I’ll be keeping up with the progress of Project Hero. I’m very curious to see what effects this extreme experience has on him!