Country Living Series

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Six months in the Middle Ages

I've often heard it said that if the bleep were to hit the fan in the form of a collapse of the electrical grid, then we'd all be plunged back to the 19th century. I actually remember reading a comment one time in which an older man gave a verbal shrug and said, "What's the big deal? Our great-grandparents lived when there was no electricity and they got along just fine."

These kinds of conclusions always leave me sputtering in disbelief because it portrays just how little people understand the complexity of our modern society and how dependent we are (directly and indirectly) on electricity for everything.

I shouldn't have to point out three major flaws with the idea of 19th century America: (1) Everyone grew up without power, so it's not like anyone was abruptly plunged into an unknown and frighteningly primitive lifestyle; and (2) the infrastructure for life without electricity was already in place; horses, mules, and oxen were already trained to pull carriages, wagons, and plows; everyone had the tools and equipment necessary for nonelectric living; and society was built, literally built, around the idea that everything was done by manpower or horsepower; and (3) the population in America was much much lower, both in rural areas and especially in urban areas.

In short, it's my private speculation that if America were to suddenly lose power nation-wide, we wouldn't be plunged into 19th century America. Instead we'd be plunged into the Middle Ages where life was short, brutish, and full of back-breaking hard work.

But enough philosophizing. There was a link on Survivalblog a couple days ago which I found fascinating. It seems a Russian man (who is a serious history buff and historical reenactor) will be participating in a sociological project lasting six months in which he will live exactly like a Russian peasant lived during the Middle Ages. Specifically the article states: A historical reenactment group is attempting to recreate medieval daily life outside Moscow. In an experiment launched in Khotkovo, just a few dozen kilometers from the hustle and bustle of Europe’s largest megalopolis, a 24-year-old man will spend six months alone in a medieval-style farmstead. The idea is to see if a modern person can survive in a 9th-century environment, with no access to electricity, the Internet or other modern amenities, and what impact living a hermit’s life will have on his psychological state.


As something of a history buff myself (including Medieval and Renaissance history), I find this project both fascinating and intimidating. To truly live a Medieval lifestyle, especially that of a peasant, means life is likely to be short, brutish, and full of back-breaking hard work.

If nothing else, the big strapping 24-year-old man engaging in this experiment will emerge with a DEEP appreciation of what our ancestors endured on a daily basis. I do, however, have a bone of contention in the final paragraph of the article, which states: People with a passion for historical reenactment can spend a whole year making replicas of period costumes and weaponry to show them off at a gathering that may last for only a week. With Sapozhnikov, this passion has been brought to its logical conclusion. His escape from the stresses of the modern world into another era with a more simple way of life is a dream cherished by many.

Ug, there's that "simple life" misconception again concerning primitive nonelectric living. Life back then wasn't simple, folks; it was short, brutish, and full of back-breaking hard work.


An interesting experiment, nonetheless.

50 comments:

  1. Great article, Patrice. As usual, you're right on the money. Most people just don't get it (especially liberal-progressives) until the truth finally rises up and smacks 'em right in the face! Another thing most people don't think about is the medical profession. Many of us would no longer be walking God's green earth if it wasn't for our doctors, nurses and modern medicine! --Fred in AZ

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    1. Exactly Fred. That's the first thing that came to my mind too. No more X-rays, MRIs, blood processing, cancer detections, modern pharmaceuticals etc...


      Steve Davis
      Anchorage, Alaska

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  2. I don't think peasant life was any more back breaking than current farm life really. Certainly some things we do today we think are so much easier but the reality is a number of those things they just didn't do. Long elaborate fencing is one thing that comes to mind and plowing of course is back breaking when done with a draft animals so in that respect it was. However there were long stretches of idle time as well during the Winter months and that is almost unheard of today and many of the things we have to do today to protect livestock and such they didn't need to worry about.

    Of course that is looking at it from an individual point of view. From a overall population perspective it becomes much different and your points are valid.

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    1. Are you serious? You obviously haven't studied much in the way of history.

      First of all, in the middle ages, draft animals were equivalent to the fancy air-conditioned, GPS-guided tractors on today's farms. Especially in the early middle ages, serfs and the poorer peasants had to plow and dig their own fields. By hand. With shovels that would have been hand-forged and would have cost them dearly. So, when we refer to back-breaking work, it was literally so for them, particulary since they lacked access to even the barest of (mostly ineffective) medicine of the era.

      Are the "long stretches of idle time" you refer to the winter months when the peasants had the "fun" of ranging far and wide to glean a few sticks and manure and turves so they could have the luxury of some cooked food in their hovel? Or building their fencing out of wattling rather than just driving their flatbed down to Tractor Supply for their "elaborate fencing"? Or building their house out of sticks and mud with their own bare hands, and trying to grow enough cereal to thatch it? And when is the last time you had to protect your livestock from wolves or bandits or Vikings using a stick or a pike or whatever other sorry weapon serfs were allowed to own?

      And all this while basically starving and having to knit their own underwear, if they were lucky enough to own any!

      Obviously there were wealthier peasants, with hand-made linen underwear and oxen, but even they worked far, far harder than even the most traditional Amish of today work.

      --Mama Bear

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    2. Obviously you know little of Medieval life nor the actual break down of family duties and responsibilities. That doesn't surprise me either. Few if any peasants lived in a vacuum and less than 10% of them in any given enclave or village group did all of the things you mention. Individually very few owned draft animals but you can bet each village did. The mere use of these animals was so widespread by the Saxon invasion of Briton that the amount tilled per day was used as their system of land measurement.

      As with any agrarian life there is always something you can do or needs doing but Medieval peasants worked no harder nor longer than today's farmers and more than likely worked overall less hours if truth be told.


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    3. Wow, you know a fact about Anglo Saxons (which is a non-sequitor to the argument at hand, as it doesn't disprove my contention that draft animals were a burdensome expense); you earn a sticker, but let's now take a more thoughtful look.

      You're right that there was a community. Alas, you appear to forget the feudal structure of medieval society. Thus, approximately half your work went to the landowner to whom you owed fealty; you paid in labor and your own personal produce (grain, animals, wood, etc.). So even if there was a famine, he still got his full cut and your family might starve. Oh well! The church also extracted a significant chunk of your labor and produce. After all that, you got to tend to what actually kept your family alive over the winter.

      Since you want to talk about draft animals and plowing, here is a relevant statistic: in the early middle ages it took 10-12 oxen to pull a plow; in the late middle ages it took 4-6 oxen to pull a plow due to improvements in plow and harness technology. You had to be well off to own even a single ox: as traction animals they eat (a LOT...food out of your babies' mouths) all year round but are only productive for a brief portion of the year; they don't produce milk or offspring. If you are not wealthy enough to own multiple teams of oxen, you are going to have to pay dearly to have these very expensive animals come and plow your field, and for that you need money or trade goods. Average peasants would largely serve as their own traction animals (or rather, they often used their wives as tracction animals, no fooling), with the heaviest burden on them in the spring and early summer, during the "Hungry Gap" when they were grinding pea pods into their bread and largely subsisting off leftover cabbages and turnips. Ya think that makes farming a little more difficult?

      Oh, by the way, I should mention that the oxen stats come from the book "Agriculture in the Middle Ages: Technology, Practice and Representation" (ed. Sweeney, U of Penn Press, 1995). It's one of the scores of books on the middle ages that I have sitting around after getting my AM in medieval literature and culture from The University of Chicago. So, yeah, I don' t know as much about medieval peasant life as I would like, but I have gleaned what I can from well over a thousand primary sources, scholarly articles and books.

      You've already doubled down on your ignorance; if you would like to quadruple down, perhaps we can discuss medieval grain yields or approximate peasant caloric intake or maybe the challenges of farming when you are dead from disease. Hint: it's really hard.

      If, on the other hand, you would like to correct your ignorance, and at the same time enhance your survival knowledge, I would recommend Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror," which provides a fascinating overview of the 14th century, which profoundly sucked due to famine, war and disease, and that was just in the years before the Black Death popped up (which was the topic of my master's thesis).

      This is not to say modern farmers don't work extremely hard; I have several family members with ag degrees from Purdue running the successful family farm that has been in our family for well over 150 years. Not one wife has been forced to serve as a traction animal, we are proud to report.

      --Mama Bear

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    4. Perhaps you should stay within your niche of literature with the typical modern day Feminist bent that has been sprinkled in, because your entire rant said little, especially about the specific time period that is being discussed here.

      Tuchman, Which I believe I read right before starting my masters program at UMC, was a work focused almost completely on the latter half of the 1300's and early 1400's if memory serves. A time of much reduced populations, cooler climates and many changes to regional agriculture. The period of the Black Death brought with it changes that can not be used as a measure against any other time It also is as far removed from the 9th century as we are from the 14th.

      High Feudalism was not even thought of in the 9th century nor were there plows in wide use that required more than a few oxen or other draft animals. In fact throughout all the periods smaller teams were used along with locally produced implements regardless of where one looks, which if memory serves, is clearly illustrated in the Luttrell psalter and mentioned in the Domsday Book as well.

      Kingdoms, if you wish to call them that, were much smaller and more tribal in nature and the local nobles had much more skin in the game and production stayed local. There were of course good and bad local strongmen but the more centralized feudal system was far from being in use. While I will certainly admit my knowledge is based about as far West from Russia as one can get at that time. I certainly do not recall any significant differences ever being mentioned for that area.

      Yields varied widely across Europe during that period and again have little to do with the topic at hand anyway. Your frequent mentioning of trade as a matter of fact would prove far easier for the Russian area peasants as Norse trade routes were well established through those regions running down into Greece and Turkey.

      I realize you have a taste for the dramatic but attempting to find specific instances of "worst case scenarios" and applying them to the entire period as a rule is misdirection to the extreme.





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    5. So getting your butt kicked by a girl means I'm an evil feminist? And facts and logical argument are "dramatic"? LMAO! I was actually trained as a New Historicist, which means a literary text can only be analyzed within its historic context. It is influenced by Marxist thought, so since I am talking about peasants' means of production, perhaps you should instead accuse me of being an EVIL MARXIST!!!! Was the feminist part where I suggested you may be scraping the bottom of the barrel survival-wise if you have to have your wife pull the plow? A feminist argument would have point out how amazing and valuable strong women were in such a society. I just pointed out a simple fact.

      Anyway, on to the debunking. First, a basic reading comprehension correction: if you re-read carefully, you will see that the refernce to Tuchman was strictly as required reading for preppers, NOT in support of my overall argument, that medieval peasant life was far more difficult than modern farm life. It was just an illustration of how bad things could get. Subsistence farming was pretty brutal even in the best of times.

      Also, you seem to have lost sight of your original contention which made me basically call you an idiot. Here is your thesis, best expressed in your 2nd post: "Medieval peasants worked no harder nor longer than today's farmers and more than likely worked overall less hours if truth be told."

      Now, in the post above, you seem to be saying we have to talk specifically ONLY about 9th century Russian peasants, as that is what the article is about, but then your arguments cite Anglo-Saxon land units, Norman record-keeping and the Luttrell Psalter, which is from 1300s England, exactly the time period you say is out of bounds. Seems like you would have made it clear earlier that only 9th century Russia was in play; very inconsistent and not logical.

      By the way, you get another sticker for mentioning the Luttrell Psalter, an incredibly gorgeous work of art. However, the ploughman image clearly shows a team of 4 oxen, which correlates with my stats for the late middle ages:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piers_Plowman
      Surely you aren't mistaking the single horse harrow for a plow, are you? That would be embarrassing. http://www.bl.uk/learning/images/medieval/rurallife/large14878.html You are correct that the Domesday book includes a sprinkling of some raggedy patched-together plow teams for villeins, although the 8-oxen team is the gold standard.

      At any rate, may I now assume your argument's goalposts have moved to "9th century Russian peasants worked no harder nor longer than today's farmers and more than likely worked overall less hours if truth be told"? The peasants of the high and late middle ages at least had significant legal protections; a peasant along the Volga or the Don had a much rougher time of it, in the face of Viking raids and eventual domination, the Viking-Byzantine-Arab trade routes you mention (the primary trade good being pretty blond-haired girls and boys ripped from the farms) and the endless warring of Slavic tribes. England actually had it pretty easy comparatively.

      Finally, I know that things like math and yields and such can be a little confusing in a discussion about agriculture, but here's a quick quiz. Would you prefer to attempt to keep you family alive on:

      a) the standard medieval wheat yield of 1:2 (poor harvest) to 1:7 (rich harvest)

      or

      b) the modern US corn yield of 1:493.6 (2012 drought) to 1:621.2 (2013 yield). Based on USDA numbers and assuming 30,000 seeds to the acre.

      Explain the rationale behind your answer and please relate it back to your thesis, which would hold that a) is an easier living than b).

      --Mama Bear




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    6. Aside from the fact that isolated and/or non-established scenarios are the meat and bread of those like you with worthless degrees, your very reasoning is enough to peg your bent as Feminist anyway.

      On to the topic at hand, one I have never left by the way and one you have never actually addressed. It's simple really. The invention and use of electricity and the internal combustion engine pretty much guarantees that today's farmers work more hours than any Medieval or Dark ages peasant. Simply because they can work well past or before sun light and in conditions that would keep the farmers of the medieval period in doors. Also production numbers prove that when a farmer is producing for himself he works longer and produces more than someone in a feudal or earlier more communal setting.

      Now if you want to say that Ulrich the plowboy worked harder overall than Fred down the road, well that's your fight to have face to face so have at it.

      Of course as any trained Feminist shill is guilty of you cannot see the forest because of a few mostly made up trees.

      Funny now a 4 oxen team is equivalent to your 10 - 12 team you started out with and you are now an expert on the psalter but couldn't recall it being there off the top of your head.

      Like I could I might add.

      I tell ya what. Go back to your cherry picked little works written by modern day affirmative action PHD's. Sit down open up another box of wine and leave the hard topics to those of us who can look at the entire picture.

      Oh and for your own information. When plowing using an old type of draft animal drawn plow pulling the thing can be done much easier than holding it upright and straight. You may not get very far very fast but if you had to divide the two between humans, pulling is by far the easier job.

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  3. No matter how prepared one is for a massive loss of power the millions of those unprepared will make life impossible no matter how far out in the boonies you might live. The mess will start in earnest at sundown the first day and will peak in about 3 days. It won't let up until some event brings about massive loss of life. If the nationwide power loss is man made,(what else?) It won't be repaired any time soon. Nobody is thinking about animals. There will suddenly be tens of millions dogs and cats on the loose and they're going to be hungry. No matter how you cut it, it's going to be ugly.

    Huggs..

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    1. Tens of millions dogs and cats would assist during the food shortage. When you are hungry, truly hungry any animal is a possible source of protein.

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    2. I have to respectfully disagree with the assertion that millions in cities "will make life impossible no matter how far out in the boonies you might live".

      As SurvivalBlog correctly explains, it is a simple case of math known as the 'Inverse Square Law'. Refugee density will drop exponentially with increasing distance from cities.

      Also, grid down means no gas. With an average 1/2 tank of gas, even if roads were open refugees will forced to abandon their vehicles within 200 miles. They will be instantly find themselves in a whole new world.
      Montana Guy

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  4. Interesting experiment, indeed. But I just can't get over the last picture and saying to myself, "No way that fence is gonn'a keep in that goat!" :)

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  5. Well, it was simple in the fact that you were born, you worked hard so you could eat and live, and then you died! As you well know, there is nothing simple about procuring daily food, clothing and shelter by the sweat of your brow. Best of luck to him, but it sure isn't my cup of tea.

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  6. When people refer to "living the simple life" they mean "simple" as in "non-complex" rather than "simple" as in "easy".
    Planting a crop by hand isn't *complicated* but it is exhausting.

    For a lot of people a major SHTF event (World wide solar flare for example) wouldn't drop them back to the 19th Centaury or even the 9th Centaury it would drop them back to the stone-age.

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  7. The article says he will be doing this alone. That make survival much more difficult. Many chores are much easier if there are 2 or more people. For instance - it's difficult to be out in the field tending crops or hunting or gathering while, at the same time, being at home doing the chores that need done there - for instance cooking.
    Hangtown Frank

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    1. You're so right, Frank. If we should find ourselves living in the 9th century again, I believe those without cows or chickens or even a garden will be able to barter for food and other necessities. Most people I know are handy at a lot of things: blacksmithing, gunsmithing, construction work, electric motor repair (many will have wind turbines and solar panels that will need repair now and then), etc. It will be a hard life, but I don't think it will be as bad as our liberal-progressive-minded people want us to think! --Fred in AZ

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  8. For the past seven years my family has slowly deprogrammed our lives, our needs, and our wants. We live without heat aside from the woodstove, we have the internet but go days without it, and gather, grow, and raise much of our own foods.

    Although we enjoy simple pleasures of sugar in our homemade drinks, and light in the home, we also have gone long periods of time without items because of finances and appreciate that one can do anything.

    I look forward to seeing how the man does in the 9th century...as I know alone my journey would have been a terrible hardship, and with my husband a journey that although bumpy has made all the difference.

    Jennifer

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  9. I find it hilarious when people who have never lived this way wax so eloquently about the benefits of doing so. Several years ago, while I was still in college I lived on a farm that was rented from a farming family. We did not work the farm, but did have a large garden and also participated in several things this family did like their own butchering and making sorghum.

    In the process of making sorghum we would go visit some Amish people this family knew and buy some of their sorghum if we came up short. I would go over and help for JUST ONE DAY and I will say that this is NOT a lifestyle that people of our current modern day society would suddenly adjust to.

    The work was extremely hard and I was not only willing to do this, but I was young and in good shape and did it for a very short period of time and still found it back breaking and miserable work that I would NOT like to do every single day of my life.

    Now having said that if the grid went down tomorrow I would do this work and do it for as long as I could, but understand this isn't like some made for TV movie. This is tough, hard, back breaking work and as Ms. Lewis pointed out people who are suddenly thrown into this lifestyle are probably destined for a short life.

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    1. When I first read this post, my first thought was that this is precisely what the Amish people do on a daily basis and have been doing so for many generations. Sometimes I wonder if we have come too far with our technologies, don't get me wrong, here in Arizona we have worked on living as close to a plain life as possible Even in the heat of summer we only use fans, there is no air conditioning here, we have also in the past used candles and oil lanterns for lighting, mostly only when the power is out, but still we are trying our best to see if it's possible to live without things in preparation of such an event happening. I will say this, although it's nice to have romantic candlelight I really do miss electric light and feel much better when it's back on. I think we take what we have too much for granted and hope that we can be inspired to try to do without, for me it makes me appreciate the stuff we have more.

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    2. The Amish in Lancaster country area in PA may use horse driven buggies, and "no electric" in their homes, but they are tied to a power grid, just not electric. They use propane for lighting (it is **not** soft lighting), kerosene stoves, butane fueled irons, and although many have treadle sewing machines, there are those who use batteries to power their sewing machines. Their businesses are run on air power, and fuel or electric is needed for this. They use cell phones and electric under different circumstances, but not in the home.

      My husband and I have lived a frugal life for 30yrs+, but I am not interested in being a minimalist or choosing to do without when it would be to our hurt. Air conditioning saves lives and makes it possible for my husband to work in the heat the next day. We have lived without things, such as TV, because it does not align with out moral or religious standards, but have no problem using the computer prudently. We feel that the old way on some things is much better than the "new" way, but understand there are positives for both. We are not Luddites.

      It is interesting to note that Charles and Caroline Ingalls of the Little House Books had lamented in front of their daughter that they did not need or use the new fangled kerosene in years past!

      It is difficult to know how electricity will play out in the end, but I am pretty sure I saw/heard our leader that electricity would, due to the new regulations, "sky rocket" in price. If true, it will put a wet blanket on things.

      In the end, necessity is the mother of invention, provided, of course, that we do not have shortages of just about everything. Then again, that is what happened to Cuba, and they have been unbelievably inventive. It is a hard knock life, however.

      By the Grace of God!



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    3. I was thinking of the Little House books, too! How hard Ma and Pa worked in their the hardscrabble life, the constant moving and coping with weather, sickness, locusts, and the like. Remember how Laura thought she was rich if she had new hair ribbons, and the sacrifices they made to send Mary to college. However, every page brimmed with the love the family had for each other and Pa's fiddle keeping things lively.

      Do we know what hard work and sacrifice mean now? Some do, I suppose, but most have been accustomed to living as post Industrial Revolution.

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  10. I love all types of "living history" and admire people who attempt to connect with the past.
    What I do wonder, will he completely embrace his Orthodox faith and return to the faith of his ancestors and follow the teachings of Saints Cyril and Methodius?
    How will he account for and dispense with his modern scientific education and worldview?
    I'm particularly interested in matters of personal hygiene and germ theory.
    Will he wash his hands before meals? After relieving himself? Will he brush his teeth?
    Will there be medical intervention?
    I think living without electricity is one thing.People do it all the time all over the world.
    But to find a way to live without the benefit of a 1000 years of western thought and influence may be something else all together.

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    1. Very interesting perspective, Granny Miller! :) I hadn't thought of that.

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    2. What about what we consider small health ailments like headaches, hangnails, a sore tooth, or anything we take an OTC for?

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    3. Weren't daily baths also simply unheard of in the middle ages? Even weekly ones?

      Will he use some of the water he has to haul "9th century style" to satisfy his 21th century knowledge of daily hygiene?

      And - as "anonymous #2" above notes - does that young enactor have a working knowledge of how a middle ager would have alleviated common small maladies...a headache...constipation....a splinter wound...a bee sting...? Did I miss that part in the article?

      Really interesting notion! This opens up a whole new subject!

      Just Me

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  11. Middle ages? We'd be so lucky, I'm thinking closer to the end of the Bronze Age. None of our homes built in the last 50 years can operate without electricity. Without constant internal temperature control, the buildings start falling apart; they aren't designed to withstand hot summers and cold winters without electricity smoothing things out.

    On the plus side, it's not like we are simply going to forget how to make electricity. Locally, some people are going figure it out right quick, albeit at a reduced capacity.

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  12. I don't know if you have come across this yet, but I found it very educational and just amazingly fun to watch. It is a BBC series, where a group of people stay for 1 year on a farm dating from year 1620 !! They do everything authentic to that time period. There are 12 thirty minute episodes, on youtube. Enjoy :) BBC's Tales from the green valley
    Linda

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    1. I saw this series a few years ago - maybe it was a different one. Mine was on PBS.

      The one thing that still stands out was when someone was being filmed doing something outside someone else's window, and out through the window came the contents of a chamber pot.

      It seems even a modern day citizen, with all the knowledge of modern hygiene, under the duress of 1620 life, eventually succumbed to the ease of throwing it out the window, instead of carrying it to the pit.

      Also --- I always thought there was a certain amount of "cheating" in the re-creation I saw. The people chosen to participate arrived at the village with all the houses already built and grain stores already in place.

      I enjoyed it all just the same.

      Just Me

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  13. Interesting. I just wonder why they decided to do this over a winter rather than starting in the spring- Russian winters are long, dark, and brutal. If they are looking for psychological effects, living alone through that would probably be enough to drive someone crazy. Years ago, I visited a historical park in Ukraine, and they had probably at least 20 traditional houses set up there, showing how people from areas around there had lived through the ages. It was fascinating, but it really made me appreciate NOT having to live in one of them.

    The other thing that this article reminded me of, though, was the book "East Wind" which relays the story of the life of Maria Zeitner Linke, a woman who survived Siberian exile as a child, and then years in East German prison camps as an adult. In any case, the article here reminds me of the conditions that she and her family lived with during Siberian exile, because they were afforded no "luxuries" by their "benevolent" government.

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  14. @ Granny Miller

    You bring up a good point about Orthodox Christianity. Now that you point it out, I wonder if they chose the 9th century, because that was still the age before Christianity really coming to that area - at that time, the Kingdom of Muscovy was still controlled by the Mongol hoards. Christianity was "established" in Kiev in 988, and as Kiev and Moscow later became one, 988 is still the date used to denote the Christianization of Russia.

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    1. The 9th century would have been the 800s.

      A. McSp

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  15. The one big concern I have is more along the lines of what happens if the water is not available, granted stored water is a plus but basic needs such as flush toilets and what not would cause some real problems quite quickly. Growing up in the country I am familiar with outhouses however being a large city dweller with, to the best of my knowledge, absolutely NO outhouses whatsoever, things are going to become a problem quite quickly. Any thoughts on how to deal with such a situation as that?

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    1. Invest in an incinerator toilet or flee.

      A. McSp

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  16. The simple life?

    Yeah, right.

    Simply wretched.

    Folks just don't know.

    Especially folks in America.

    If/when the shtf it will make the 18th and 19th centuries look like a shining utopia.

    A.McSp

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  17. We lived 60 highway miles from the impact point of Hurricane Sandy. I am assuming that it is much closer as the seagulls fly to get away from storms. There is also a small mountain range (Those from Idaho would laugh) between us and the shore. It didn't matter. A massive amount of mature trees were uprooted, and as a result, we were without power for two weeks. The trees came down on the power lines. We were one of the last to get power, although there were others without power longer.

    We were prepared for Sandy. We had gas. We were able to flush the toilets, had hot showers, hot food, and didn't loose anything in the freezer. All of our temperature sensitive pets did well indoors as the outdoor animals on our small farm. It still took four hours a day to maintain. Many of our activities other than the above, are off grid, but it still was an adjustment. By the end of the two weeks we started to get used to the new schedule, but we were very glad when we had power. We have made changes in our preparations, and it should help things, but if it were long term, it would be a major adjustment. I would not look forward to it. I prefer to flick the light on in a room instead of using a head lamp, but I assure you I Praised God for that head lamp and supply of batteries.There were people who were not prepared, and endured the cold and lack of power. They still are not prepared. I don't get it.

    As an aside, those who were in the path of Sandy down the shore, built their house on sand. (They definitely don't read their Bibles.) It is one long sand bar. There was a big building boom down there for the past 20 yrs or more, mostly used as investment or income from summer tourists. There is only one road in or out of some parts of that sand bar, and those who lived there had plenty of warning to get out.

    Concerning flushing toilets and living in the city. I understand that the NYC high rises that were affected by flooding (not all were), had no toilets due to the system backing up. Yuck. I have read a number of options concerning this matter. One is to empty the toilet of water, line it with a plastic bag, and put kitty litter in it, and put more kitty litter in it after each use. Change the bag frequently keeping the weight down. Where to dispose the bag depends on your situation. There are also indoor composting systems.



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  18. We experienced the life of living without electricity twice. Once during the 1971 earthquake in Sylmar, Ca. and next during the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, Ca. After the 1994 quake, I kept trying to think of things to do to clean up the mess of brokenness, but all required electricity. Well maybe the broom did not. But picking up broken glass, crystal, china without the convenience of a vacuum - well we didn't consider it - we waited until the juice came back one. It was amazing, and we were so grateful on the third day when the power came on!

    Is it fair that this man seems to be doing this with a house already built? Shouldn't he have to build that too?

    Blessings,
    DWLee3

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    1. Ever since we moved out of the caves, houses and farms were built and handed down while being improved the entire time. I'm sure with his experience if he had a younger body he could start out with building the house / farm. I just can't believe the amount of people scared, really scared to be without electricity or government safeguarded food supply. Wake up and know we were designed to survive. My only concern is the huge population in the cities dependent on the system to supply their needs. They will be looking for your small farms to take them in or take over by force.

      Delete
  19. The guy doing this experiment will certainly have it tough, but he has PLANNED and PREPARED for this test, and is doing it willingly. This makes him much different from almost everyone else in the developed world if we have a real "fan" event.

    I imagine there are some primitive types in Africa or China, etc. who already live in a similar fashion today, and who almost won't even notice such an event. They may turn out to be the most "prepared" of all.


    - Charlie

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  20. 9th century in Russia was the time when vikings were setting up trading posts and eventually forming first kingdoms in the area. There was no mongol hordes at that time (they came at 13th century).

    Regarding the amount of physical work an average peasant would do at middle ages, I just read an interesting article which said they actually worked less than an average people today. Of course there were times of long working days like when it was harvesting time. But for example, for several months during winter it was simply too dark to work. Just something small could be done in the light given by fire. Then, as somebody pointed out here, they took their faith seriously and didn't work at Sunday or other numerous religious holidays. They had more of them than we have currently here in Europe (this of course differs a lot between countries) and definitely much more than in USA.

    Also, I think you are really correct pointing out how their life really wasn't simple. Not even "not complex" as someone pointed out here. I think it was really complex in many regards, as they had to know everything. One couldn't just go to supermarket and buy something she needed. I think the amount of knowledge an average person had at that time was simply astonishing!

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    1. I suspect that the article is not a terribly well researched one. Medieval peasants worked their butts off, summer and winter.

      If you were poor, here is what you did in the middle of the winder, at night, by moonlight:

      Good King Wenceslas looked out
      On the feast of Stephen
      When the snow lay round about
      Deep and crisp and even
      Brightly shone the moon that night
      Though the frost was cruel
      When a poor man came in sight
      Gath'ring winter fuel

      If you had rights to a forest, you could cut wood, particularly from a coppice; if you didn't have rights you scrounged for twigs. All. Winter. Long.

      In the late fall you would have significant labor with your butchering duties--first you would work for the various nobles to whom you had a feudal obligation, then you could do your own, if you were lucky enough to have a spare animal to butcher. You would mend your house, barns, outbuildings and fences. You would dig carrots, leeks, turnips and parsnips. You would carve your household utensils out of wood. You would repair tools, nets, harnesses, and clothing. You would scrounge nuts and mast for your pigs. You would spin wool and flax in order to cloth your family, probably on a drop spindle unless you could afford the high-falutin' advanced technlogy of a wheel. You would malt barley, brew beer, grind grain, smoke meat, make sausage, and make candles if you were wealthy enough to access extra tallow or (heavenly!) beeswax. This is the kind of work a fairly prosperous peasant would have done over the winter, in addition to his farm chores (mucking stalls, milking, feeding animals, etc.)

      Sure, they had holidays, but this was their welfare or charity system back then--the richer people of the community would sponsor feasts as rewards for the working people and to help keep them from starving. But if there was a bad harvest, well, the poor starved.

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  21. 9th century in Russia was the time when vikings were setting up trading posts and eventually forming first kingdoms in the area. There was no mongol hordes at that time (they came at 13th century).

    Regarding the amount of physical work an average peasant would do at middle ages, I just read an interesting article which said they actually worked less than an average people today. Of course there were times of long working days like when it was harvesting time. But for example, for several months during winter it was simply too dark to work. Just something small could be done in the light given by fire. Then, as somebody pointed out here, they took their faith seriously and didn't work at Sunday or other numerous religious holidays. They had more of them than we have currently here in Europe (this of course differs a lot between countries) and definitely much more than in USA.

    Also, I think you are really correct pointing out how their life really wasn't simple. Not even "not complex" as someone pointed out here. I think it was really complex in many regards, as they had to know everything. One couldn't just go to supermarket and buy something she needed. I think the amount of knowledge an average person had at that time was simply astonishing!

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  22. I also had read about this experiment. The first thing that stuck me was that most people (even in the middle ages) did not live as hermits because, you guessed it, the back breaking work it takes to survive.

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  23. Read "Slow Apocalypse" by John Varley or "An Ill Wind" by Kevin Anderson..both deal with a sudden collapse of the petroleum infrastructure caused by genetically engineered oil-eating bacteria. We depend on petroleum as much as we do moving electrons.
    Technology is a grand thing-and the guy in the experiment had a way out if something went truly wrong (a medical emergency fer-instance) that those in medeival times would not.

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  24. He's going to have a tough time of it, no doubt. He's in for some learnin'.

    I notice the house, the barn, a water source, the animals and even the grain stores are all in place already. I kinda wish he would have had to at least harvest and set aside his own grain.

    Just Me

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  25. i think you keep putting 'simple' and 'easy' in the same category. life back then was simpler, if you wanted milk you went outside and milked the cow/goat then strained and you were good to go, same with eggs, meat, vegetables, they where either right outside your door or someone you knew grow it and could trade. It was very simple compared to the process used today to get milk and meat to the average person's home, easier? no, but much simpler. that's just my 2 cents though

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    1. I agree, simple means getting one birthday/holiday present instead of 6 or 7 and not expecting more, no more elaborate birthday parties for your 2 year old, no rushing to take your kids to their soccer, dance, football, and piano lessons, or even to school, no coupon shopping, no more excessive papers, bills, etc....definitely not an easy life, but simplified in the idea that everyone stays closer to home, you eat, sleep, and work, and your kids learn to do the same, with none of these "fillers" we are expected to do in our society today...

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  26. All,

    I don't think "simpler life" captures it well at all. Rather, living that way connects people directly with what they NEED, not what they WANT. And, since we all hunger for meaning in our lives that type life can be very attractive. Simpler though? No. You have to know all, master all, be all in a way most modern people never master anything.

    In the modern world most of us lives of attention-filtering distraction. We're distracted/divided/diluted to the point of never have to discover what we're really capble of. realizing what we can do.

    Whenever I read writings from authors who lived prior to the modern era (Chesterton comes to mind) it's amazing to me the detail and thoroughness with which they considered, evaluated, analyzed, and described the world/thoughts etc. Most of us now never scratch the surface of most topics.

    Thanks for your blog!
    JB Green

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  27. An addition to my last post:

    My wife is a modern hippie-leaning woman. She works full time in the business world but LONGS for the life you describe everyday in your blog mixed in with some 60's idealistic views of possible ocmmunal living :-)

    I am the first generation in my family born "in town". My folks were born during the depression, and survived and thrived on dirt-poor dust bowl farms and ranches in West Texas.

    When she speaks longingly of 'simpler times' I remind her that my folks and almost all their numerous brothers and sisters moved to town at the first opportunity. The simpler life is harder.

    JB Green

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  28. I'm amused by all of this. Until around 1350 baths were common. As were dental care (although different) and OTC medicines. Only one person in a village ground grain, it was generally illegal for others. Community was important, so oxen tended to be owned by one but leased out for everyone to turn soil with. You did give allot of the acre grown stuff to the lord, but had a private garden and even fruit trees. He also paid you for your work. Bread was also communally made, and the average person loved on stew (potage) & bread (1 lb sense loaves). Think a lot of kale, leeks and peas. Yes, it was dark and smelly compared to now. But women shaved (body hair was gross), men had free time (most women used their annual barley payments to open beer halls), and kids got the raw deal being married of by fourteen (regardless of sex).
    I lived this way until I was a teenager. It wasn't traumatizing. Candles are fine to read by, harvesting crops was fun, and I did feel that I worked much less when I have farmed. Because you can only do what you can do, so you stop stressing about things you can't control. It's not easier, it's not harder, it's just different. I would agree most people I know couldn't handle it. They would be hungry all the time, be bored,miss luxuries, not be able to forage, be cold and loose a lot of weight.

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