sLast month, not­ed his­tor­i­cal writer Mike Dash pub­lished a mind-blow­ing arti­cle on Smithsonian.com. His piece con­cerned the Lykovs, a Russ­ian fam­i­ly who belonged to a cen­turies-old sect of Russ­ian Ortho­dox Chris­tian­i­ty known as ‘Old Believ­ers’. When the Bol­she­viks seized pow­er and launched an anti-reli­gious cam­paign through­out the Sovi­et Union, Karp Lykov (whose broth­er was unjust­ly shot by Com­mu­nist troops) packed up his wife and two chil­dren and fled into the Siber­ian wilder­ness. The fam­i­ly estab­lished a home­stead less than a hun­dred kilo­me­ters from the Mon­go­lian bor­der, and pro­ceed­ed to live off the land for more than 40 years; dur­ing that time, two more chil­dren were born. They were final­ly dis­cov­ered by a team of geol­o­gists in the late 70’s, who intro­duced the Lykovs to mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion and forged a life-long friend­ship with the family.

The whole arti­cle is a fas­ci­nat­ing read. Here are some of the most aston­ish­ing details of the Lykovs’ decades-long sur­vival in what is con­sid­ered some of the world’s harsh­est, most iso­lat­ed terrain.

Food
The fam­i­ly large­ly sub­sist­ed on pota­toes grown in their back­yard kitchen gar­den, which were rolled into pat­ties and sea­soned with hemp, rye and oth­er fla­vors. They sup­ple­ment­ed their diet with pine nuts, wild berries and, on occa­sion, hunt­ed game. But on sev­er­al occa­sions, their gar­den was dev­as­tat­ed by bit­ter frost. At one point, the crops were reduced to a sin­gle grain of wheat that, mirac­u­lous­ly, sus­tained the fam­i­ly for sev­er­al months and allowed them to rebuild their gar­den. But trag­i­cal­ly, it was too late for Karp’s wife, Akuli­na; she per­ished from star­va­tion in 1961.

Hunt­ing
You may be won­der­ing how the Lykovs hunt­ed game with­out firearms, bows or oth­er killing imple­ments. The answer is sim­ple: the two sons, Savin and Dmit­ry, sim­ply chased any large ani­mal they could find — typ­i­cal­ly deer or elk — until the crea­ture dropped dead from exhaus­tion. Under­stand­ably, this method yield­ed vari­able rates of suc­cess; the youngest daugh­ter, Agafia, explained that the fam­i­ly some­times went more than a year with­out meat.

The Lykov Family- Amazing Details of Siberian Survival
Cloth­ing
Dur­ing their flight from Sovi­et per­se­cu­tion, the Lykovs brought along the com­po­nents of a spin­ning wheel and loom. When their clothes final­ly fell apart and the fab­ric sup­ply was exhaust­ed, Akuli­na fash­ioned gar­ments from hemp seeds. When their shoes fell apart, Karp carved galosh­es out of birch bark. After Akuli­na’s death, the eldest daugh­ter, Natalia, assumed the role of homemaker.

Water stor­age
The fam­i­ly orig­i­nal­ly brought two met­al ket­tles, but both of these items suc­cumbed to heavy rust until they were unus­able. So the Lykovs carved ket­tles out of birch bark, but (under­stand­ably), heat­ing these wood­en ket­tles over a fire proved to be an impos­si­ble task.

Hob­bies
Dmit­ry was arguably the crafti­est mem­ber of the Lykov fam­i­ly. He cre­at­ed an axe-like tool for falling trees, and devel­oped his own log-plan­ing tech­nique. He took a great inter­est in the tools used by the geol­o­gists. The fam­i­ly was also intro­duced to a near­by Sovi­et camp, where they could obtain food and sup­plies, learn advanced liveli­hood tech­niques and inter­act with oth­er Rus­sians. Dmit­ry was quite inquis­i­tive, often remark­ing at the mar­vel of every­day devices. Karp, on the oth­er hand, was cap­ti­vat­ed by anoth­er mod­ern advent: tele­vi­sion. He report­ed­ly watched TV in the cam­p’s rec room every time he visited.

Today
Upon ini­tial con­tact, Agafi­a’s unusu­al speech and plain demeanor gave many the impres­sion that she was slow-wit­ted. As it turned out, she was quite intel­li­gent; Agafia made the con­scious deci­sion to keep track of time (with­out a cal­en­dar, mind you), and her records pro­vid­ed valu­able dates when the fam­i­ly’s sto­ry was lat­er turned over to historians.Today, Agafia is the only liv­ing mem­ber of the Lykov fam­i­ly. Now in her mid-70’s, she still lives in the Siber­ian home where she was born. Though she has lived alone for more than 25 years, those who have met her say she is quick to brush aside any con­cerns about her soli­tary lifestyle. Her reply: “The Lord would provide.”