There Are Time Capsules Buried Across The US Waiting To Be Read

If you could talk to the future, what would yousay?

There Are Time Capsules Buried Across The US Waiting To Be Read

K. Thor Jensen

If you could talk to the future, what would you say?

A couple years back, workmen at the Massachusetts State House in Boston were repairing a leak in the building when they found a decaying copper box lodged in its cornerstone.

It was carefully extracted, X-rayed and eventually opened. Inside were five newspapers, a handful of coins, a medal and a silver plaque, cast by Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere and inscribed by Samuel Adams, informing readers that it had been sealed away when the State House was completed in 1795.

Museum Of Fine Arts Boston

This box was a time capsule, one of thousands that are buried all over America as messages to our future. They’re buried beneath government buildings, schools, universities and shopping mall parking lots.

One of the most famous time capsules is the Crypt of Civilization at Georgia’s Oglethorpe University — a massive room full of 20th century ephemera set to be opened on May 28, 8113. Others include the Westinghouse capsules buried in Queens, New York at the 1934 World’s Fair and the pyramid tomb in Seward, Nebraska.

These boxes usually contain letters written by a wide variety of people to the citizens of the future, as well as physical items designed to illuminate what life was like when the boxes were buried. Some are more specific — George Lucas buried one at Skywalker Ranch with a bunch of “Star Wars” memorabilia. The Los Angeles Bicentennial capsule buried in 1976 has a pet rock and a dress worn by Cher. In DC, the National Millennium Time Capsule contains historical artifacts like a piece of the Berlin Wall.

A time capsule buried in the 50s that was discovered recently near MIT. | slashgear.com

The only problem with the dozens of time capsules that have already been unearthed is that the messages the past is sending us are pretty useless.

Really, what did we learn from Revere and Adams’ time capsule? That our ancestors used coins as money and read news printed on paper. Nothing we didn’t already know. What will people in the future get from Cher’s hundred year old dress? Presumably our descendants will still be wearing clothes, so not much.

That doesn’t stop people from burying new time capsules at the rate of a few every week. Some are set to be opened in 100 years, some 200, some 1,000 — if humanity gets that lucky.

Time capsules began to rise in popularity along with the science of archaeology. As we started to discover remnants of ancient civilizations, people started to worry about what the future would think of us. Scientists out on digs would extract random artifacts, but they often raised more questions than they answered.

With this new hindsight, people started to think about what they wanted the future to know about them. Instead of piecing our lives together from pottery fragments, we wanted to paint a rosy picture of our enlightened world.

But, of course, that picture was just as misleading.

James Gleick’s brilliant “Time Travel: A History,” released in 2016, is a study of how humans have tried to wrap our brains around the idea of moving through time, starting with HG Wells’ 1895 novel “The Time Machine” and ranging through the multiple permutations of what such a machine might entail.

At its core, Gleick argues that a time machine is simply an object that “moves” in time without appreciably moving in space. Modern science still hasn’t come up with something that can do that.

Or have they? By that definition, a buried capsule is a primitive sort of time machine. It just travels into the future at the speed of one second per second, one hour per hour, one year per year. That is, at the only speed any of us can manage.

Glieck calls burying time capsules “reverse archaeology.” Instead of piecing together a picture of the past from random scraps, they’re trying to distill our world down to a few key objects that will stand the test of time.

So why are we trying so hard to talk to the future?

Ostensibly, we do it because we want to educate the civilization to come about what things were like. But, as we found out from the capsules we’ve dug up already, that’s pretty silly.

In reality, sinking artifacts into the ground is an ego thing, like the Egyptian pharaohs and their monumental tombs. We bury time capsules because we want to believe that the things we do, the time we’re living in, is important. Humans don’t want to die, and the next best thing is to be remembered after we pass on.

So go ahead, seal up some things that mean a lot to you and sink them deep into the earth for the future to find. Just don’t pretend you’re doing it out of some altruistic desire to help the archaeologists of tomorrow. It’s fine to be freaked out by your own mortality and desperately try to deny it. If burying a pair of your underwear for a hundred years makes you feel better, you do you.