Take one old swimming pool, add common objects from 1940s, and fill it with an inert gas. Then cover it with a seven foot stone slab, and you’ve created “The Crypt of Civilization.”
With the discovery of King Tut’s tomb still fresh in the public’s mind and the rumblings of another world war beginning in Europe, Thornwell Jacobs thought up the idea of deliberately creating another Tut’s Tomb for future archaeologists, but instead of filling it with funerary articles, this one would be a representation of civilization at the time.
At Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven, Georgia, an abandoned swimming pool was donated to the project. Its walls were reinforced with enamel plates, covered in tar, and objects were carefully placed inside. Some of the items include: the contents of a woman’s purse, voice recordings of major figures in the impending World War II, a Lone Ranger toy, a bottle of Budweiser and even a film copy of Gone with the Wind.
Books were important, but instead of taking up a lot of space with fragile paper, 800 works of historic value were recorded on microfilm. And of course there are film readers and projectors in there as well, so future archaeologists can actually read the Illiad or watch Gone with the Wind… providing the film survives. And yes, there’s an audio recording of the champion hog caller, which is a skill that may not be needed in the future.
How long are these things expected to survive? Jacobs calculated that the Egyptian calendar began 6,177 years before the idea of his crypt, so he figured it should be another 6,177 years before it should be opened. That date is in the year, 8,113 CE.
Concerned that treasure hunters might seek to enter the crypt before its time, Jacobs left a message at the door, which included the following lines:
This Crypt contains memorials of the civilization which existed in the United States and the world at large during the first half of the twentieth century. …No jewels or precious metals are included. …we beg of all persons that this door and the contents of the crypt within may remain inviolate.
Jacobs, it seems, didn’t know about the value of collectibles.
It’s a safe bet that 6,000 years from now, the English language will not exist. Because we found the Rosetta Stone, we can read Egyptian Hieroglyphics. But without that find, we’d likely still be baffled by that elaborate pictographic language . What will future archaeologists use to decipher what we’ve written? And how can they appreciate that this preserved moment in time, was but a moment? Even 80 years later, we might struggle to recognize many of the objects inside. Technology is moving so quickly that any time capsule can’t possibly speak for a period of more than a few years. With the Egyptians, we had a written language to decipher. In the future, archaeologists will be looking at iPhones, where nothing is apparent unless it’s powered on. Will they be able to plug it in and read its contents? A Kindle can hold thousands of books, but will anyone in the future know that?
And more important, will they even care to? Or will curiosity about the past go the way of flivvers and buggy whips?