Russian villagers living in shadows of past pandemics

In Russia's Republic of North Ossetia, they are not just living with the current pandemic.

They have visual reminder of those that have gone before, hundreds of years ago.

Back then there were no hospitals; there was no medicine.

Only an ancient form of social distancing.

Nearly 100 stone structures built as tombs or 'charnel houses' make up the so-called 'city of the dead' near the village of Dargavs.

People who were ill were sent here to isolate from their families - and told to only come back when they were better.

According to Boris Tsogoev, from the national museum of North Ossetia, only one person ever did.

"Relatives brought food there as long as the person inside was alive. When this person stopped taking food he was considered dead. Only one person came back from the Dargavs necropolis, from one of the charnel houses, one person only. He recovered by himself and went back to his relatives. This is the only known case."

Historians think the initial construction of the Dargavs site took place between the 14th and 16th centuries.

The wooden tray used to pass food inside can still be seen.

Kazbek Basayev lives in the small mountain village of Tsmiti.

He can see several of the stone structures from his home.

"They are connected to outbreaks of epidemics. There was cholera or plague, and medicine (medical knowledge) did not know anything in those times. So the most effective way not to infect others was to go to a charnel house and die there."

Many did die in inside these stone walls.

They hold the remains of generations of local families.

In the era of COVID-19 where so many have died without their loved ones by their side, the same was true of previous pandemics, hundreds of years ago.