How to Pull Off an Epic Time Capsule

I love the future. I love dreaming about the future, and wondering how technology, culture and political landscapes will change over the generations.  I am fascinated and inspired by how some people through history have made an impact on this world that lasts beyond their lifetime.

I want to be someone who leaves a mark on this world, and I figure that the easiest way to do so is to bury stuff.  I decided that to mark the birth of Cohen I would create a time capsule containing a few bits and pieces from my life to date and a bit of inspiration for ‘future Cohen.’  At the very least, it will be a fun thing to track down when Cohen is in his twenties.

To pull something like this off you need three things:
1. Something worth finding
2. Somewhere safe to bury it
3. Some way to remember it

Something Worth Finding

There are two components to this. Obviously the contents of the time capsule should be cool and significant, but the other important consideration is having a container that will preserve them for a few decades under the ground.

The trick with deciding what to put in it is to have items that hold a decent amount of significance but are not that valuable in themselves, just in case you can’t find it again (for example, I wouldn’t recommend burying your wife’s engagement ring!). Ideal items are little objects that have a bit of a story behind them. In Cohen’s time capsule I’ve included the calculator that got me through high school and a stanley knife I used for carving lot numbers in boundary pegs during my time as a field assistant. I’ve also included a notebook with sermon notes taken during some of my uni years, and a couple of newspapers from the day of his birth.

I wrote a letter to the future Cohen who will dig this up one day. It was actually quite tricky to write, because I really don’t want it to be an embarrassment when we dig it up.  I wanted to share a bit of the wisdom I’ve gained in my life to date, but didn’t want it to be so sentimental it would be weird to read later.  I’ve not idea who Cohen will turn out to be, so I tried to keep it fairly general and laid back.

Deciding what container to put all this in is no small consideration. Having the coolest, most appropriate items in your time capsule means nothing if it leaks and becomes a soggy mass of mould and rust. Buying a sturdy, robust and watertight container isn’t something you want to cut corners on. In my case I bought a small food-grade sealable pail from Mitre 10, and lined it with a plastic bag. The newspapers from the day of Cohen’s birth lined the outside of this, and inside I bought a cylindrical Sistema container, that snaps closed to be well and truly airtight. It was in this central core that I put all the things I really, really, really hope are still good in 20 years. You want to get your hands on plenty of silica gel to throw into these containers too. I just gave the good people at Number 1 Shoes a call and they very obligingly held on to a couple of handfuls of satchets for me.  Bear in mind that your container of choice needs to be able to withstand the blows of a spade digging it up in a few decades, so an ice cream container simply won’t do.

Somewhere Safe to Bury It

In cadastral surveying, it is a rule that each survey should include two ‘Permanent Reference Marks,’ which by definition should be reasonably expected to last 50 years or more. Because of this background, I’m used to thinking in terms of what future development is possible, and how to avoid it. There’s a lot more at stake when you’re putting something like this down, so you can’t afford not to think about what might happen to it over the decades.

Basically private property is not an option, even if you currently own the land. This limits you to roads and parks. Roads are risky, with all the underground services going on, and the possibility of roadworks or people putting in driveways. This leaves parks. I would avoid anything very close to water, because erosion can happen quicker than you think.  Another important consideration is to have some nearby features such as walls or fences that you would expect to be around in a few decades, so that you can reference your time capsule to them.

In my case I opted for somewhere in Cornwall Park, Auckland. It has rich heritage value, so any proposed development would have a hard time getting off the ground. It also has a lot of wide open space, so I could find a spot where it wouldn’t be too dodgy digging a little hole in the ground.

A system to remember it

Once again, the most cleverly thought out time capsule will be worthless if you forget about it, or can’t find it in a few decades. There are two elements to this, how to record the location and how to store that information.

Being a surveyor, recording the location of this time capsule got me quite excited. In my case I borrowed the GPS from work and obtained a coordinate accurate to the nearest couple of centimetres. I also drew a diagram with dimensions from nearby features, and took some photos.

If you don’t have access to a survey quality GPS, you can still get a more general coordinate using phones or tramping GPS units, however you will need to be more careful about finding a spot with nearby features that you can realistically expect to survive as long as your time capsule. However you obtain a coordinate, it is important to keep track of what coordinate system it is in, given that these do change.  Don’t worry about how you’ll track down the coordinate later, as they’ll probably have invented glasses that have a built in HUD and possibly X-ray vision by the time you need to find it again.

The other trick is to have a way to access this information in 20 years or so.  A hard-copy bit of paper containing this information simply won’t do, because if you lose it you can kiss your awesome idea goodbye. Nonetheless, even if we think technologically, it could all change over a few short years.  This means that, just like investing, diversification is key, both in the formats you use and the places you save them.

I produced a sheet with the coordinates, diagram and photos as a pdf, and a jpeg image, as well as saving the raw coordinates and an access description as a .txt file. I also printed the sheet and added to the folder we keep birth certificates and passports in. I stored the electronic files in google documents, dropbox and evernote, so hopefully one of them will survive for that long. To remind myself that it exists I have set up yearly reminders for myself in Google Calendar (its hard to pick if Google will still be the giant it is, so rather than one reminder in 20 years I am reminding myself every year between now and then).

Only time will tell whether all this effort and planning will pay off, but if it does it will be awesome.  I’ll be loving it even if Cohen thinks its a random box of junk.  If you think I’ve gone overboard, or have ideas for how to do this stuff better please let me know in the comments!

P.S Don’t tell Cohen about this blog post when he’s older!

9 Thoughts.

  1. Well done, Marcus, as you have gone to a great deal of effort thinking about something special for your son. Do you need permission to dig a hole in the park? Another comment is, as I am a cautious person, what if the hard copy and technology disappear and you are not around. Is there a PLAN C! I am not touting here for the coordinates as a younger person may be a safer bet.

    • Thanks Chris. If you wanted to play it safe it may be worth talking to someone before doing this. My attitude in this case was to just do it, and if people started asking questions just be honest about what I was doing (the other option was to dress up in fluro gear, put the flashing light on the ute and pretend I was doing something official). I doubt anyone would have an issue with doing this in the middle of the paddock, but I purposely avoided the old pa site on the top of the hill.
      I would suggest that if both the hard copy and all digital copies stored online get destroyed at once that I’ll have more to worry about than finding the time capsule! Good point though, if I die between now and then Paula knows about it and can access my google account, so it will be sweet!

  2. I like your treasure map Marcus, good idea. This will be great fun to dig up.
    I agree that the hardest part will be getting it to last 20 years in the ground. Do they have metal detectors at your work? and can I borrow one when we are in Auckland?

    • Cheers Aaron, the sheet of paper is more for my reference really. Give me 20 years and I’ll be able to dream up some elaborate treasure hunt that will take Cohen all over New Zealand (or the world) to find clues to piece together the coordinates! No we don’t have metal detectors at work sorry!

  3. Very fascinating Marcis that I have just read your blog for the first time yet have semming already replied to you. I suspect Nana Sue have may replied under my name! Given that she suggests you could share the coordinates with a younger person than her I believe that person could be me.

    • Hi Angie
      The pail lid snapped closed pretty tightly, so it seemed pretty well sealed on its own. I also used duct tape around the top for good measure. To be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if some condensation still gets through from the ground though, hence why I put in the sistema container as well.

  4. Pingback: Reasons Why to Not Bury a Time Capsule | Time Capsule Company

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