Time capsule

Last updated
Time capsule plaque in Ypsilanti, Michigan, with instructions for the capsule to be recovered and opened upon the city's bicentennial, on July 4, 2023 Ypsilanti sesquicentennial time capsule.jpg
Time capsule plaque in Ypsilanti, Michigan, with instructions for the capsule to be recovered and opened upon the city's bicentennial, on July 4, 2023
Typewritten documents recovered in 2021 from a capsule buried in the 1940s Unrolling the contents (51362226354).png
Typewritten documents recovered in 2021 from a capsule buried in the 1940s

A time capsule is a historic cache of goods or information, usually intended as a deliberate method of communication with future people, and to help future archaeologists, anthropologists, or historians. [1] The preservation of holy relics dates back for millennia, but the practice of preparing and preserving a collection of everyday artifacts and messages to the future appears to be a more recent practice. Time capsules are sometimes created and buried during celebrations such as a world's fair, a cornerstone laying for a building, or at other ceremonies.



Early examples

It is widely debated when time capsules were first used, but the concept is fairly simple, and the idea and first use of time capsules could be much older than is currently documented. [2] The term "time capsule" appears to be a relatively recent coinage dating from 1938. [3] In Poland a time capsule dating to 1726 has been found. [4] Around 1761, some dated artifacts were placed inside the hollow copper grasshopper weathervane, itself dating from 1742, atop historic Faneuil Hall in Boston. [5] A time capsule dating to 1777 was discovered within a religious statue in Sotillo de la Ribera. [6] A time capsule was discovered on November 30, 2017, in Burgos, Spain. A wooden statue of Jesus Christ had hidden inside it a document with economic, political and cultural information, written by Joaquín Mínguez, chaplain of the Cathedral of Burgo de Osma in 1777. [7] A time capsule from the era of the American Revolution, dating to 1795 and credited to Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, was temporarily removed in 2014 from the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House in Boston. [8] It had been previously opened in 1855, and some new items had been added before it was reinstalled. [8] It was ceremonially reopened in January 2015 at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, with specific restrictions on media coverage, to preserve the fragile artifacts. [9] The contents were displayed there briefly, and then reinstalled in their original location. [8] [10] It is the oldest known time capsule in the United States.

20th century

The Helium Centennial Time Columns Monument located in Amarillo, Texas, holds four time capsules in stainless steel intended to be opened after durations of 25, 50, 100, and 1,000 years after they were locked in 1968. Helium monument time capsule in amarillo texas usa.jpg
The Helium Centennial Time Columns Monument located in Amarillo, Texas, holds four time capsules in stainless steel intended to be opened after durations of 25, 50, 100, and 1,000 years after they were locked in 1968.
Herrick Tower time capsule, Adrian College, Michigan, 2009-2059 Herrick Tower Time Capsule Adrian College.JPG
Herrick Tower time capsule, Adrian College, Michigan, 2009–2059

In 1901, a time capsule was placed inside the head of the copper lion ornamenting the Old State House in Boston. It was opened in 2014, during repairs to the sculpture and building, with plans to add new artifacts and reinstall it in its original location. [12]

The Detroit Century Box, a brainchild of Detroit mayor William C. Maybury, was created on December 31, 1900, and scheduled to be opened 100 years later. It was filled with photographs and letters from 56 prominent residents describing life in 1900 and making predictions for the future, and included a letter by Maybury to the mayor of Detroit in 2000. The capsule was opened by city officials on December 31, 2000, in a ceremony presided over by mayor Dennis Archer. [13] [14]

A time capsule labelled "Kan aabnes i 2012" ("Can open in 2012" in Norwegian) was sealed in 1912 in Otta, Norway. The capsule was opened as part of a ceremony 100 years later in 2012. Despite the large excitement over the capsule's opening and a preceding ceremony, its contents (which included notebooks, newspaper clippings, and community council papers) were met with disappointment. [15]

The Crypt of Civilization (1936) at Oglethorpe University, intended to be opened in 8113, is claimed to be the first "modern" time capsule, although it was not called one at the time.[ citation needed ] During the socialist period in the USSR, many time capsules were buried with messages to a future communist society. [16]

The 1939 New York World's Fair time capsule was created by Westinghouse as part of their exhibit. It was 90 inches (2.3 metres) long, with an interior diameter of 6.5 inches (17 cm), and weighed 800 pounds (360 kg). Westinghouse named the copper, chromium, and silver alloy "cupaloy", claiming it had the same strength as mild steel. It contained everyday items such as a spool of thread and doll, a book of record [17] (description of the capsule and its creators), a vial of staple food crop seeds, a microscope, and a 15-minute RKO Pathé Pictures newsreel. Microfilm spools condensed the contents of a Sears Roebuck catalog, dictionary, almanac, and other texts.

The 1939 time capsule was followed in 1965 by a second capsule at the same site, but 10 feet (3.0 m) to the north of the original. Both capsules are buried 50 feet (15 m) below Flushing Meadows Park, site of the Fair. Both the 1939 and 1965 Westinghouse Time Capsules are meant to be opened in 6939.

There is documentation of at least three physical time capsules at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as a "virtual" or digital time capsule. [5]

As of 2019, four time capsules are "buried" in space. The two Pioneer Plaques and the two Voyager Golden Records have been attached to spacecraft for the possible benefit of spacefarers in the distant future. A fifth time capsule, the KEO satellite, was scheduled to be launched in 2015–16. [18] However, it has been delayed several times and an actual launch date has not been given. After launch, it will carry individual messages from Earth's inhabitants addressed to earthlings around the year 52,000, when it is due to return to Earth. As of July 2019, the satellite had not been launched.

The International Time Capsule Society was created in 1990 to maintain a global database of all known time capsules. The Not Forgotten Digital Preservation Library maintains a current map and register of domestic and commercial time capsules.

21st century

"Earth's Black Box"—a city bus-sized structure with steel walls, battery storage and solar panels located at remote site in Tasmania—will accumulate and electronically store comprehensive climate research and related data, including land and sea temperature changes, ocean acidification, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, human population, energy consumption, military spending, and policy changes. [19] The box was conceived to tell future civilizations how humankind created the climate crisis, and how it failed or succeeded to address it. [19]


Miscellaneous objects prepared for the Westinghouse Time Capsule, created for the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, intended to be opened in 5000 years 1965 Westinghouse time capsule contents.jpg
Miscellaneous objects prepared for the Westinghouse Time Capsule, created for the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair, intended to be opened in 5000 years

According to time capsule historian William Jarvis, most intentional time capsules usually do not provide much useful historical information: they are typically filled with "useless junk", new and pristine in condition, that tells little about the people of the time. [20] Many time capsules today contain only artifacts of limited value to future historians. Historians suggest that items which describe the daily lives of the people who created them, such as personal notes, pictures, videos and documents, would greatly increase the value of the time capsule to future historians.

If time capsules have a museum-like goal of preserving the culture of a particular time and place for study, they fulfill this goal very poorly in that they, by definition, are kept sealed for a particular length of time. Subsequent generations between the launch date and the target date will have no direct access to the artifacts and therefore these generations are prevented from learning from the contents directly. Therefore, time capsules can be seen, in respect to their usefulness to historians, as dormant museums, their releases timed for some date so far in the future that the building in question is no longer intact. [20]

Historians also concede that there are many preservation issues surrounding the selection of the media to transmit this information to the future. [20] Some of these issues include the obsolescence of technology and the deterioration of electronic and magnetic storage media (known as the digital dark age), and possible language problems if the capsule is dug up in the distant future. Many buried time capsules are lost, as interest in them fades and the exact location is forgotten, or they are destroyed within a few years by groundwater.

Cultural references

The 1947 docudrama The Beginning or the End is a semi-historical account of the creation of the first atomic bomb during World War II. The film begins with staged newsreel footage of the scientists and officers involved in the project (played by actors) burying a time capsule in Redwood National Forest in California. The capsule contained a copy of the film, along with a projector to view it on, and instructions for its operation set on a metal sheet. The purpose of the capsule was in line with the film's title, about whether humanity will destroy itself now that it has the ability to, or whether it will rise above war as a whole and come together to use nuclear power for greater purposes. The film can be seen as an example of Cold War propaganda. [21]

The 2009 dramatic film Knowing involves a time capsule being placed in the ground by an elementary school in 1959. [22]

Artists such as Andy Warhol, Christian Boltanski, and Louise Bourgeois are known for compiling collections of everyday artifacts that they associate with memories of the past, which are preserved in museums and archives. [23]

The 1955 Warner Bros. cartoon One Froggy Evening involves a singing and dancing frog extricated from (and eventually replaced within) a time capsule. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, in the PBS Chuck Jones biographical documentary Extremes & Inbetweens: A Life in Animation , called One Froggy Evening "the Citizen Kane of animated shorts". In 1994, it was voted No. 5 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation. [24]

Personal and domestic time capsules

Commercially manufactured sealable containers are sold for protection of personal time capsules; some of the more durable waterproof containers used for geocaching may also be suitable. Many underground time capsules are destroyed by groundwater infiltration after short periods of time; [25] caches stored within the wall cavities of buildings can survive as long as the building is used and maintained.

In 2016, the art collective Ant Farm displayed a show, The Present Is the Form of All Life: The Time Capsules of Ant Farm and LST, at the art center Pioneer Works, in Brooklyn, New York. The artists had previous experiences with failed time capsules, and were now exploring "digital time capsules" as a more durable form of preservation. [26] They have said, "We’ve come to understand that the best way to preserve digital media is to distribute it." [26] Blockchain and cognitive learning is now used in time capsule technology. [27] Researchers have started to study methods of preserving digital data in forms that will still be usable in the distant future. [28]

See also


  1. M. Guzman, A.M. Hein, C. Welch, "Eternal Memory: Long-Duration Storage Concepts for Space", 66th International Astronautical Congress, Jerusalem, Israel.
  2. ""Rustic Stone" article Monday, October 1st, 2012: All about Time Capsules and Plaque Markers" . Retrieved November 6, 2012.
  3. "time capsule". Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  4. "World's oldest time capsule found hidden in church spire". www.thefirstnews.com. Retrieved 2023-09-28.
  5. 1 2 "A Lion, A Grasshopper And Other Boston Time Capsules". WBUR 90.9. WBUR. October 9, 2014. Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  6. "Hallan una "cápsula del tiempo" oculta en una talla del siglo XVIII". abc. November 27, 2017. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  7. "'Time Capsule' Found in Jesus Statue—Where You Wouldn't Expect". December 4, 2017. Retrieved January 7, 2018.
  8. 1 2 3 "Inside the Box". MFA: Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 23 February 2015. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  9. "Media Advisory: Time Capsule Unveiling at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston". MFA: Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 23 December 2014. Archived from the original on 2018-09-08. Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  10. Conlon, Kevin (December 11, 2014). "Paul Revere's 1795 time capsule unearthed". CNN.
  11. "HELIUM MONUMENT". Amarillo, Texas, USA: Don Harrington Discovery Center. Retrieved November 30, 2008.
  12. "Century-Old Time Capsule From Old State House Lion Opened". WBUR 90.9. WBUR. Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  13. "On-call Requests: Time capsule questions the future". mlive.com. December 2008. Archived from the original on June 19, 2013.
  14. DHSdigital (12 October 2012). "Future Friday: Century Box Prophecies". detroithistorical.org. Archived from the original on 17 April 2018. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  15. "History Wins As Norway's 100-Year-Old Mystery Parcel Is Opened". TIME. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  16. "Time Capsule Found Under Lenin Statue". The Moscow Times. July 19, 2012. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  17. [Westinghouse electric corporation]; Frederic W. Goudy Collection (Library of Congress) DLC (April 14, 2019). "The book of record of the time capsule of cupaloy, deemed capable of resisting the effects of time for five thousand years, preserving an account of universal achievements, embedded in the grounds of the New York World's fair, 1939". New York. Retrieved April 14, 2019 via Internet Archive.
  18. "Les dates de KEO" . Retrieved December 7, 2014.
  19. 1 2 Ramirez, Rachel (December 7, 2021). "A giant 'black box' will gather all climate data for future civilizations to learn from". CNN. Archived from the original on December 7, 2021.
  20. 1 2 3 William Jarvis (2002)
  21. "The Beginning or The End". Life. March 17, 1947. pp. 75–. ISSN   0024-3019.
  22. Proyas, Alex (2009). Knowing (Motion picture). Paramount Pictures.
  23. Bliss, Louise. "Containers of remembering: the creative practices of collecting memory objects". Academia.edu. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  24. Beck, Jerry (1994). The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals. Turner Publishing. ISBN   978-1878685490.
  25. "A University Just Opened A 25-Year-Old Time Capsule—And The Contents Are Peak 1993". George Takei. 29 October 2018. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  26. 1 2 Budds, Diana (13 September 2016). "Building A Time Capsule For The Digital Age". Fast Company. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  27. "Technology | The International Time Capsule Society". International Time C. Retrieved 2020-11-28.[ permanent dead link ]
  28. Petrelli, Daniela. "There is more in personal heritage than data". ACM Interactions. Association for Computing Machinery. Retrieved 2019-05-02.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Museum</span> Institution that holds items of significance

A museum is a community service that displays and preserves objects of significance. Many museums have exhibitions of these objects in public display, and some have private collections that are used by researchers and specialists. Compared to a library, a museum hosts a much wider ranges of objects and usually focus around a specific theme such as the arts, science, natural history, local history, and other topics. Public museums that host exhibitions and interactive demonstrations are often considered to be tourist attractions, and many museums attract large numbers of visitors from outside their host country, with the most visited museums in the world regularly attracting millions of visitors annually.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Crypt of Civilization</span> First Time capsule in Georgia, United States

The Crypt of Civilization is an impenetrable airtight chamber, built between 1937 and 1940, at the Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven, Georgia. The 2,000-cubic-foot (57 m3) repository is meant not to be opened before 8113 AD. It contains numerous artifacts and sound recordings that illustrate civilization and human development to the 20th century. Classic literature and religious texts were also deposited, as well as items showing the extent of scientific progress to 1939.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Museum of the City of New York</span> Museum in Manhattan, New York City

The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) is a history and art museum in Manhattan, New York City, New York. It was founded by Henry Collins Brown, in 1923 to preserve and present the history of New York City, and its people. It is located at 1220–1227 Fifth Avenue between East 103rd to 104th Streets, across from Central Park on Manhattan's Upper East Side, at the northern end of the Museum Mile section of Fifth Avenue.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Massachusetts State House</span> State capitol building of the U.S. state of Massachusetts

The Massachusetts State House, also known as the Massachusetts Statehouse or the New State House, is the state capitol and seat of government for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, located in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston. The building houses the Massachusetts General Court and the offices of the Governor of Massachusetts. The building, designed by architect Charles Bulfinch, was completed in January 1798 at a cost of $133,333, and has repeatedly been enlarged since. It is one of the oldest state capitols in current use. It is considered a masterpiece of Federal architecture and among Bulfinch's finest works, and was designated a National Historic Landmark for its architectural significance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Museum of Fine Arts, Boston</span> Art museum in Massachusetts, United States of America

The Museum of Fine Arts is an art museum in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. It is the 20th-largest art museum in the world, measured by public gallery area. It contains 8,161 paintings and more than 450,000 works of art, making it one of the most comprehensive collections in the Americas. With more than 1.2 million visitors a year, it is the 79th–most visited art museum in the world as of 2022.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Washington Monument (Baltimore)</span> Monument in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.

The Washington Monument is the centerpiece of intersecting Mount Vernon Place and Washington Place, an urban square in the Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood north of downtown Baltimore, Maryland. It was the first major monument begun to honor George Washington (1732–1799).

The MIT Museum, founded in 1971, is located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It hosts collections of holography, technology-related artworks, artificial intelligence, architecture, robotics, maritime history, and the history of MIT. Its holography collection of 1800 pieces is the largest in the world, though only a few selections from it are usually exhibited. As of 2023, works by the kinetic artist Arthur Ganson are the largest long-running displays. There is a regular program of temporary special exhibitions, often on the intersections of art and technology.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hetepheres I</span> Queen of Egypt

Hetepheres I was a queen of Egypt during the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt who was a wife of one king, the mother of the next king, the grandmother of two more kings, and the figure who tied together two dynasties.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">National Museum (Maldives)</span>

Established on the National Day of the Maldives, the first National Museum of the country was opened on 11 November 1952, by the Prime Minister at the time, Mohamed Amin Didi.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Preservation (library and archive)</span> Set of activities aimed at prolonging the life of a record or object

In conservation, library and archival science, preservation is a set of preventive conservation activities aimed at prolonging the life of a record, book, or object while making as few changes as possible. Preservation activities vary widely and may include monitoring the condition of items, maintaining the temperature and humidity in collection storage areas, writing a plan in case of emergencies, digitizing items, writing relevant metadata, and increasing accessibility. Preservation, in this definition, is practiced in a library or an archive by a conservator, librarian, archivist, or other professional when they perceive a collection or record is in need of maintenance.

The conservation and restoration of new media art is the study and practice of techniques for sustaining new media art created using from materials such as digital, biological, performative, and other variable media.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Conservator-restorer</span> Professional responsible for the preservation of artistic and cultural artifacts

A conservator-restorer is a professional responsible for the preservation of artistic and cultural artifacts, also known as cultural heritage. Conservators possess the expertise to preserve cultural heritage in a way that retains the integrity of the object, building or site, including its historical significance, context and aesthetic or visual aspects. This kind of preservation is done by analyzing and assessing the condition of cultural property, understanding processes and evidence of deterioration, planning collections care or site management strategies that prevent damage, carrying out conservation treatments, and conducting research. A conservator's job is to ensure that the objects in a museum's collection are kept in the best possible condition, as well as to serve the museum's mission to bring art before the public.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Exhibitions of artifacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun</span>

Exhibitions of artifacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun have been held at museums in several countries, notably the United Kingdom, Soviet Union, United States, Canada, Japan, and France.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Westinghouse Time Capsules</span> Time capsules buried in 1939 and 1965

The Westinghouse Time Capsules are two time capsules prepared by the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company. One was made in 1939 and the other in 1965. They are filled with contemporary articles used in the twentieth century way of life in the United States. The items are intended for people of the 7th millennium to receive for historical significance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert E. Lee Monument (Richmond, Virginia)</span> Former public sculpture in Richmond, Virginia, United States

The Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond, Virginia, was the first installation on Monument Avenue in 1890, and would ultimately be the last monument removed from the site. Before its removal on September 8, 2021, the monument honored Confederate Civil War General Robert E. Lee, depicted on a horse atop a large marble base that stood over 60 feet (18 m) tall. Constructed in France and shipped to Virginia, it remained the largest installation on Monument Avenue for over a century; it was first listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007 and the Virginia Landmarks Register in 2006.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Samuel Adams and Paul Revere time capsule</span> American time capsule from 1795

The Samuel Adams and Paul Revere Time Capsule, also known as The Massachusetts State House Time Capsule is a time capsule located in a cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House. It is widely believed to have been buried in 1795 by then-Governor Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. It is the oldest known time capsule in the United States.

The conservation and restoration of time-based media art is the practice of preserving time-based works of art. Preserving time-based media is a complex undertaking within the field of conservation that requires an understanding of both physical and digital conservation methods. It is the job of the conservator to evaluate possible changes made to the artwork over time. These changes could include short, medium, and long-term effects caused by the environment, exhibition-design, technicians, preferences, or technological development. The approach to each work is determined through various conservation and preservation strategies, continuous education and training, and resources available from institutions and organization across the globe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">NotForgotten Digital Preservation Library</span>

Not Forgotten Digital Preservation Library LLC, based in Princeton, NJ, United States, is an organization established to create, record and preserve legacies and time capsules. The library registers and maps all types of time capsule projects worldwide, and catalogs them on the WorldCat.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fine Arts Zanabazar Museum</span> Art Museum in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia