Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Mystery of the Time Capsule

Time capsules are both mysterious and fascinating. I have always wanted to walk on the beach and find one, half buried in the sand and covered with barnacles and seaweed. Finding a time capsule is like playing the ultimate detective game and traveling back in time.  It can tell you how people lived, the events of the time, people’s habits, fashion, music, and information about the person who created the capsule.

So, in this spirit, I decided to build my own time capsule, bury it and plan to recover it 25 years from now.  If you want to build one yourself, here is my guide:

Choosing a Burial Duration And Target Audience
First, you will need to choose the duration that your capsule will be bury. Would you want to open it with your children (25 years), grandchildren (50 years), or your great-grandchildren (75 years)?  Or, maybe you would like the capsule to be found by somebody else 100 years or more from now.  The duration of the burial will affect the type of information you collect and its location.
Next, you need to determine who the target audience for the capsule is.  The most common options are:
  • Family - These capsules have personalized contents that would be important for your future family members
  • Public – These capsules have generic public information that would be interesting for anyone
Also, if you are planning to store digital content (like voice and video recording), my dad tells me that common magnetic storage on devices like USB drives, or Flashcards is unlikely to last more than 25 years.  So your best bet for long-term capsules is to use artifacts printed on acid-free paper.

Decide Where to Store the Time Capsule
Next, you need to find a place to store your capsule. Popular public areas like a state park are preferable because its likely that they will not be developed in the future. Some point to consider before taking out your shovel are:
  1. If you bury the capsule in your backyard, you may not live in that house 25 years from now and you may not have access to it.
  2. If you bury the capsule on private property that is open to the public (like an open field or a forest), the property may be sold eventually and redeveloped.
  3. If you bury a family capsule on a beach, the wave and wind erosion my expose the capsule prematurely, causing it to be recovered by a stranger.
  4. When burying the capsule, make sure that you are not being observed. Your audience may think that you have buried a treasure or are hiding something valuable and remove the capsule right after you bury it.
  5. Unless you are planning to include a front page photograph showing you being arrested as one of the artifacts in the capsule, check with your local police department before digging or burying anything on public land to make sure you are not breaking any laws.
Take very careful notes about the burial location.  This should include GPS coordinates, hole depth, a verbal description of the site and how to access it, ground photographs showing different landmarks, and an aerial photograph of the location with a mark showing the burial site (use Google earth).  You should keep the description of the burial location with other important family documents like birth certificates and wills.  

Selecting a Storage Container
Storage Capsule-Sheva Apelbaum How much content do you want to preserve for the future? Think about how long the artifacts must last. If you plan to store it indoors, a simple shoebox or lunch box may do.  If you plan to bury it outdoors, you will have to choose a box that is rust and waterproof.
I recommend using a stainless steel container with a large rim. Don’t use plastic because it will disintegrate underground.  After you screw on the cap, lock it positively with stainless steel wire or encase the whole capsule in a lot of aluminum foil. 

If you are burying the capsule outdoors, you should place hydroscopic "gel bags" like those used in the packaging of electronic appliances. These will help to absorb any moisture that is present at the time you close the container and will prolong the life of paper items like photographs.
All paper items should be placed in double heavy duty zip lock bags.  If you are storing metal items like coins, keep them separate and don’t allow them to touch each other as the contact will lead to accelerated corrosion.

Collecting Objects for Your Time Capsule
Decide who you expect to open your time capsule and what story you’d like to tell them. My capsule Time Capsule-Sheva Apelbaumis designed for my family, so my emphasis is on photographs, letters, and information about me, my sister, my mom, and my dad.  If you plan to target the public, you may want to focus on news, current events, and social trends like fashion.
You don’t have to store expensive objects. Collect simple  items that show who you are and what your present time is like, such as:

  1. Pictures and information about yourself and family members, your house, and your hobbies.
  2. Information about current events and newspaper clippings.
  3. Lists of popular music and movies.
  4. Items in daily use like money samples, jewelry, toys, trinkets.
  5. Letters from family members and art projects.
  6. Recording of voice and video (use a USB stick). 
Remember, almost anything that contains current information will be meaningful if recovered in the future. 

Now, go assemble your capsule and have fun!


  1. What a wonderful idea Sheva!
    I wish you will find a very suitable place and that it won't be disturbed over the years and that you will easily find it in good health and happy mood after your chosen period of time! If I still live, please give me a call and tell me about it! :-)

  2. Yael,

    One of the items in the capsule includes a picture of Lavander! Don't worry, I will call you FIRST thing!

  3. You are the sweetest Sheva ever!!!