I remember as a kid being struck by the magic of time capsules. I buried my first two when I was 10 years old and countless others since. And every time, I envision someone - a kid, or a future archaeologist, or an alien being - digging it up in 100 years, 1,000 years, or 1,000,000 years from now. And the sensation that it will cause, "Ancient Artifacts from the 20th Century Found in Buried Time Capsule." And these future people will study the trinkets from the past, my matchbox car, my lucky penny, my birthday photo and they will learn a little more about our culture. Everytime I bury a time capsule I feel that I've left my mark and contributed to what will be our history. 

T he first time capsule I witnessed was buried by the Rotary Club in my home town. It was Arbor Day in 1964. There was a parade. Trees were planted. Speeches were made. And most interesting to me, people put all sorts of things - coins, letters, photos, newspapers - into a giant oil drum. It was placed under the sidewalk in a deep hole on the corner of Main Street and Railroad Avenue, the busiest intersection in the small town. A plaque encased in several inches of clear enamel was embedded in the sidewalk cement just above the capsule to commemorate the event. Only problem was that over the years, cars cut the corners a little and would run over the enamel and the plaque. After a while the enamel cracked, making the plaque unreadable. Chunks broke loose. Pedestrians waiting for the light would inevitably step in the resulting ruts and twist an ankle. So eventually the town just pulled out the remaining enamel and filled in the void with cement. By now, I'll bet there isn't a person in that town who remembers that a time capsule is buried there. 

M y second time capsule that year, was my own. Inspired by the Arbor Day capsule, I took some old homework assignments, a hot wheels car, a comic book, a Barbie Doll, a love note to Mary MacNamara - put it all into a big jar, buried it in my backyard, and told myself I'd be back to dig it up at the stroke of midnight in the year 2020. Not long now. Mary will be very surprised. 

T ime capsules, in some form, have been around for as long as man has been around. Some were maybe accidental. Kids drawing on the wall gave us the petroglyphs in the caves in Perigord, France. Kings wanting to be comfortable on their journey to the beyond gave us the spoils of the Egyptian Pyramids. And one of my favorites, in 1993 a mountain climbing expedition in Arsey, Switzerland discovered an 8000 year old man frozen in the ice. In his small leather satchel they found berries, a cutting tool, and a small stone carving of his God. 

S ome time capsules are much more deliberate. Like the one buried at the 1964 Worlds Fair which is meant to be opened in the year 6964. Inside are a collection of items that would show who we were at the time - a newspaper, a bikini, a Beatles record. And the one buried at Olglethorpe University containing items from the 20th century including an entire full-size Volkswagen Bug. I hope they have battery chargers in the future. 

W hat makes for a good capsule? The most insignificant things sometimes are perfect. You throw away newspaper ads. But how interesting it is to find an old ad selling soup for 5 cents. TV guides are great. (Mannix? Yeah I remember that show...) Even just writing down your thoughts at the moment can be so interesting years later. And thoughts don't have to be momentous - like world peace, or the nature of mankind. One of the most interesting archaeological finds I've seen was in a Roman bath in Vichy, France. I always thought of the Romans as very staid and pompous. They wore long robes and spoke with Sheaksperean accents and took things so seriously - "To be are not to be? That is the question." But the Romans, it turns out, were very human. At this one particular bath site, the Romans had a custom where you could repent your sins by writing the details of your 'error' onto a piece of flattened lead. Then you roll up the lead and toss it into the bath. So what was written on these early forms of time capsules? Insights for world harmony? Great burdenous thoughts concerning the fate of mankind? No. My favorite one: "I borrowed my sister's cloak without asking her and somehow spilled wine on it. When she found out, she struck me and so I struck her back even though it was all my fault. My mother made me write this." Sound familiar? Have fun with your personal thoughts. Be honest with them. Make them exactly that, personal. Let the old college professors smoking pipes bury messages about the weight of the world. But the only way the future is going to know what you are thinking is if you tell them. 

T hrow in birth announcements, marriage announcements, photos. Maybe put in a list of your future predictions. In the 1600's there was a pharmacist living in Amsterdam. He went about his business and sold remedies for whatever ailed you. He was just an average person doing his job, wasn't famous in any way. But in the evenings, he would write down his visions of the future. And in the 300 years since his death, many of those predictions came true - you could be the next Nostradamus. Who will be a future president? When will the Great San Francisco Earthquake strike? What will be the most important scientific discovery of all time? 

W hat else to put in your capsule? How about writing a letter to your spouse or your children even though they might not exist yet. Locale maps. Baseball Cards. Put music in your time capsule - a list of the top 40, songs you like, songs you don't. Do you think 200 years ago everyone listened to classical music? Sure, the aristocratic rich sat in the parlor as chamber musicians pumped out the musak of it's day. But what about the average person? They certainly couldn't afford to pay chamber musicians and why would they want to listen to background music anyway? No, they did something else entirely. They listened to folk music. Music of the people. Something that would lift their spirits. Something that would make them want to get up and dance. And were is this music today? Certainly classical chamber music from that era exists today, but what about the folk music of that era? Gone. Why? The aristocracy had the means to preserve their music. Money, museums, who knows ...big basements. But the little guy couldn't do that and as common man passed on, so too did common culture. Don't let this happen to you! Take your culture and bury it! 

O ther things to put in a time capsule: You could put money. It's always interesting to see a really old coin. But here is a thought. Open a bank account and deposit one dollar. Then put the passbook in the time capsule. If someone finds the capsule three hundred years later, the one dollar, because of interest, would be worth about $1,000,000. 

P ut in some stamps - the oldest American stamp was only printed about 100 years ago and is now worth about $6,000,000. You could put in a sample of your DNA, a hair or a drop of blood. Cloning isn't possible today, but in the infinity of the future, it certainly will be. Put in a souvenir from a recent trip. You will just leave it around the house for the next year, it will eventually end up under a bed covered with dust and 2 years from now, you will find it and throw it out. Put it instead in the time capsule and 25 years from now, you will be thrilled as you rediscover the forgotten item and remember the trip. 

P ut in some air. A small jar of our air could give future scientists interesting data on 20th century pollution. A 200 year old sealed lead coffin was recently unearthed in North Carolina. Researchers carefully pierced the outercoating and extracted the inner air knowing that it could reveal secrets of what the environment was like in the 18th century. Pretty cool. Even put in some dirt. The barren island of Majorca, 3000 years ago, was a lush garden paradise with rich top soil. But the newly arrived Sicilians chopped down the trees for the wood. Without a root system, the top soil eroded, the smaller vegetation lost it's source of nutrients and could no longer grow. This meant that the animals had no plants to eat, no where to hide, etc. Today, the island is barren. Things change - quickly. The finders of your capsule might be surprised that healthy soil once existed at all in the Great Sandy Mississippi Desert in the country of New Japan on the continent of North America. 

T hrow in your language, your slang. Nothing says more about who you are than the way you speak. What are your latest buzz phrases like, "Yadda, yadda, yadda" or "You go girl". Throw in your symbols. Mathmatical notation, chemical formulas, and graphs will become the heiroglyphics of the future. Throw in the latest joke you heard. Currrent humor tends to reflect current times. "I just had my cholesterol checked. The doctor said it was 911." 100 years from now, I wonder if people will understand that joke. As it turns out, there is virtually no evidence of ancient humor. They surely must have had humor, but no one ever thought of preserving it. The only reference I've ever come across was an inscription on the wall in what is believed to be the men's staging area at a collisium in Pompeii. It reads, "SEMPER UBI SUB UBI". From the Latin, Semper Fildelis - ALWAYS faithful. UBI as in ubiquitous meaning every WHERE. And SUB as in submarine meaning UNDER water. You figure it out.... 

I nclude some examples of local vegetation. The weather is always changing and this certainly impacts our environment. The Sahara used to be lush and inviting. Civilizations chose to flourish there. But some while back, India, though continental drift, bumped in Asia. As the worlds collided the Himalayas were born and thrust ever upwards. This caused the jet stream to shift northward above Asia. But every action has an equal an opposite reaction. This shove northward in Asia made the jet stream on the opposite side of the world bump southward, causing North American to be caught on the wrong side of the dividing line between cold and warm air. This caused North America to be thrust into an ice age. The resulting 'storage' of water as ice meant that some part of the world must be losing its water - the Persian Gulf. North America became cold and icy, the Sahara became hot and dry. And how do we know that Egypt used to be a garden? We found evidence in the biggest time capsules of all, the pyramids. 

W hat can the future learn from your time capsule information? Well, what has the past learned? OK, so some archaeological finds aren't so interesting. The remains of a house are discovered. The Government funds a dig and every grain of dirt is taken away and analyzed. In the end, we conclude the people living in that house ate food, and had a fireplace. OK, so who cares. Well there are some examples of historical finds that do change the way we think about our past and consequentially have an impact on our future...Your time capsule could be the one that leads to important conclusions about the 'ancient people'. Or a sample of your uncontaminated blood might lead to an antidote for some future disease that would otherwise have wiped out mankind. Wow, that's important. Maybe, even, a time capsule will lead to the most important invention in the history of time, a time machine. Back on December 16th of 1993, I was putting a time capsule together when something occurred to me. What if time travel was sort of like talking on the telephone - where you can't make a call unless there's somebody else with a phone. What if Alexander Graham Bell built only one phone? Who would he call? Himself? If he did that, he would never get through, the line would always be busy! No. For the concept of the phone to work, you need at least two phones. Well maybe the same thing is true for time travel. In order to go from one time zone to another, maybe the sending zone needs a device to send, but at the same time (so to speak), the receiving zone also needs a device to receive. Well, that would mean it is not possible to travel back in time to before the point in time when the first time machine was invented because there couldn't possibly be a receiving time machine. The future could dial the past's phone number, but essentially, there would be nobody in the past who has a phone to answer. 

N otice though, that once a time machine existed, I could travel forward in time because I could tell myself, for example, that one year in the future I'll build another receiving time machine so that right now I could set the dial one year ahead and go there. But again, it is traveling backwards that wouldn't work because we have no receiving time machine. This could explain something about time travel that always bothered me. If time travel will one day be possible, why hasn't anyone ever come back to our time to tell us some important things, like how to wipe out disease? Are future time travelers uncaring, or is it exactly like above. -they just have no way of getting here. 

B ut wait. What if there is something that could travel back in time without a receiving time machine. In 1981, at Brookhaven National Laboratory, a physicist captured some slightly unusual particles in the particle accelerator. He watched two electrons collide into one another, and after the collision, they were both gone. His colleagues started to postulate ideas right out of sci-fi books. Maybe one electron was made of matter and the other was made of anti-matter and when they touched, they canceled each other out. Sounds good in a movie script, but there is no basis in the real world. But one day, the physicist came up with a much more inventive theory. What if they were the same electron where one was moving forward in time and one was moving backwards in time. The forward moving electron would be making its way through time and space, and then for some reason, it would switch gears and start to go backwards in time. To the outside observer, this would look like the forward moving electron vanished after some point in time. In fact the scenario would look exactly like what the physicist saw. Two electrons, both making their way through time and space seemingly independently until at some point, they occupy the same time and space, after which there would be nothing. They would both seem to vanish. 

S o if electrons can travel back in time, how can this help us build a time machine today? This is where the time capsule comes in. What if I put a note in a time capsule explaining my above theory on electrons and time travel. And in the note, which will be discovered at some point in the distant future, I ask the future inventors of time travel to send a burst of electrons back in time to me at exactly the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1998. If I then turn on my radio on this day and at the stroke of midnight I hear a burst of static, then I know this method of communicating with the future works. I could then extrapolate on this idea and bury another time capsule suggesting that the future inventors of time travel send me on the following night by using Morse coded static bursts, the design instructions on how to build a time machine receiver. Once that is in place, then the future time machine inventors would finally be able to travel back in time. Now can I tell you something really scary. When I thought of this idea back on that day in the middle of December of 1993, I was listening to the radio, and at the stroke of midnight, the radio music turned to static. This lasted for 5 seconds and then everything went back to normal. Could it be that the future inventors of Time Travel found these notes and were trying to encourage me with my idea? Why don't you try it and let me know what happens. 

S omething else to consider. What message do you put on the capsule to tell the future discoverers that it is not a bomb, it is not a Pandora's Box, it is in no way dangerous and it should be opened? It is a similar dilemma of what to do with Chernobyl. What sign should we post just outside of the melted nuclear reactor to warn future generations that this area is dangerous and must not be entered? Chernobyl will be dangerous for the next 100,000 years. Anything could happen in that period of time - language changes, technological ability changes. It is quite possible that the world goes through some cataclysmic event and reverts to a primitive society. How do you tell our future selves to stay away? You could put a giant fence around the area, but this might spark curiosity, in fact enticing people to explore the area. You could place a giant sculpture of a vicious looking guard dog in front of the area, but that might convince some people that there is something valuable beyond. You could encase the entire area in stone, but it again might become a wonder of the future world where tourist come from all over just to see the oddity of the ancient world. Too far fetched? Look at the pyramids. They are encased in stone and there is a guard dog, the sphinx, placed nearby. Maybe the ancients were faced with a similar dilemma to Chernobyl and put up these warning signs and now tourist do come from all over the world just to see it - completely contradicting what the ancients might have been trying to accomplish. So what should we use to tell the future the time capsule is safe? Written language? Pictographs? Mathematics? If you have any good solutions to this problem, let me know and I'll include your thoughts in the instruction manual. 

W hen do you bury a time capsule? Certainly on New Year's Eve. Certainly for the New Millenium. And certainly the graduating class should bury one on graduation day. Imagine the fun they will have at the 25th reunion when they dig up the capsule and pull out an old football jersey, a brochure from the school play, and the handwritten predictions of where they would all be in life by the time they went to their 25th reunion. This is the concept of time capsules at its best making for a magical moment that everyone will remember for the rest of their lives. And don't forget to bury one on a birthday. A wedding anniversary. When moving into a new house. When a baby is born. A family reunion. On a date (she'll think you're really sentimental and clever). 

A nd finally, where should you bury your time capsule? In a deciduous tree forest, soil builds up at a rate of one tenth of an inch per year. This means after ten years, your time capsule is an inch deeper in the ground and after 1000 years, it could be 8 feet deeper and thus, might never be found. And be slightly cautious of mapping out the bury site using seemingly immovable landmarks. There was a steam ship that sank in the Mississippi River during the Civil War. Many people unsuccessfully tried to find the ship during the past 130 years, each successive group postulating that the ship must have drifted further and further downstream. And even though technology improved - scuba diving equipment, sonar images, magnetic imaging, - no one was able to find the ship. Then, in 1991, along came a smart guy who said maybe it wasn't the ship that moved, but the river. He found the ship in a corn field a quarter of a mile away from the current river location. Incidentally, this turned out to be a great time capsule, in its way. All the contents in the hold of the ship were preserved under the river mud. And it now represents the largest find of civil war artifacts ever discovered. Rivers move. Trees fall. Rocks crack apart. Be careful and make a good map. 

A nd remember, we can't predict the future. Merlin tried to do it 1000 years ago by looking into a crystal ball. Wall Streeters try to do it today by looking into a computer screen. But it is just not possible. We don't know what is going to happen to our culture, our technology, our knowledge. After 100 million years of existence, the dinosaurs were wiped out by one meteor. If we all don't do our part to preserve a bit of who we are, that information might be lost forever. Don't let this happen to your planet. Bury a time capsule today. 
 
 

C hristopher Chance,
Applied History 


 




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