Monday, February 15, 2010

What Would You Put in a Time Capsule?

You can make your own out of simple readily available materials.

My friend Shelly over at This Eclectic Life posed an interesting question yesterday. It really made me think and she suggested maybe we could write about it and post it on our own blogs. I started to comment at her place, but had so much to say, I decided to take her sage advice.

The subject was a simple question; “What would you put into a time capsule?”

The first thing I thought of was an iPod touch. I don’t have one, but they seem to be all the rage. So many hand held electronic gadgets out there, and if the TV is any indication of the competition for you, the consumer, to buy one, well there are just too many. Which one do we put into the time capsule?

I remember seeing the time capsule cornerstones in large buildings in downtown Chicago. If the building was ever demolished, or when future generations decided to open it, the contents would be revealed. We would then see, or future generations that occupy Chicago would then see, what was going on, what was important, what part of the past previous inhabitants thought to be important, or whatever was put in the vault.

Would we put in news stories of current events? Who would write them? Biased news media giants? Or neutral editorial scribes? How about demographics? The weather trends, highs and lows, snow and rainfall for the year that the capsule was implanted? Maybe the prices of common everyday objects. I know I’ve mentioned in previous articles how much a candy bar was in 1957. By the way, they were a nickel and they were all made by different candy companies!

In the 1980’s, Mrs. Spadoman and I worked for the State of Minnesota Historical Society. I was a tour guide at an Historic Site. The site was called The Northwest Company Fur Post. It was the actual site of a fur trade era trading post that was found in the 1930’s by a neighboring farmer. He was plowing in the sandy soil and came across a row of charcoaled log ends. He dug around and found this to be the wall of a stockade.

Yours truly dressed as a nineteenth century Voyageur. Photo from 1985.

Mrs. Spadoman portrayed her character as an Indian woman that was named in the journals of John Sayer. Also a photo from 1985.

Joe Neubauer, the man who found the site, was a friend of mine and lived in the farm directly to the West of what is now the Historic Site. Neubauer turned over the information of his findings and a full exploration was done. It was found that the site corresponded to journal entries by a fur trader named John Sayer, who was a partner for the Northwest Fur Trade Company. The Northwest Company had shot off from the parent company which was the well known Hudson Bay Company.

Arrowheads on display.

This Article about the making of copper tools mentions Neubauer and his 1932 findings at the fur post site. Scroll down just a short way for a brief paragraph about finding the site. The Historical Society rebuilt the post, and used the site to preserve and portray the past to travelers, school groups and interested parties. When I worked there, I was dressed as a French Canadian voyageur, one of the working class that manned the fort like structure when it was occupied in the Fall and Winter of 1803-04. As a tour guide, I interpreted the goings on of that era through living history.

Famous painting by Frances Densmore of a voyageur canoe of the fur trade era.

The information I used was gleaned from the diggings that were done when the Historical society excavated the site. In latrines were found a plethora of information about what was used there. Bits of china, silverware, for example, were found in the latrine. Trade beads, small 2-3 mm glass beads, were pushed up from the sandy soil and it was not uncommon to find a colorful bead now and again after a rain or upon Spring thaw. Arrowheads were common. When I met him in 1982, Joe Neubauer had one of the most extensive collections of arrowheads to date in the state, all found at the site.

A photo from our own collection of the historic site Northwest Company Fur Post in Pine City, MN from 1985.

As interesting as this is, my point is that we can fill numerous time capsules and think about what we want the people of the future to see, but what will really tell the story is to look at our trash and the things that we discard either through non use or wastefulness. When future generations sort through what Mother Earth pushes up from her soil they will find answers to what previous inhabitants had, and didn’t have, and what and how it was used. I saw the artifacts that were taken from a 200 year old site. The china is no longer made the way it was made, and the utensils are made of different materials, but they still used cups and saucers and forks.

Typical trash heap. What would our trash say about us?

I wonder if we’ll ever replace the fork and spoon. Plastic plates will last forever. They will be found. What will future civilizations find and what assumptions will they make upon review of our trash, or what was dropped on the ground? Maybe there won’t be any iPod touch units, but there will be parts. Like parts of old computers can be found in trash heaps. Old TV and radio tubes. What about transistors? Do any of you still have a transistor radio? What became of them?

My belief is that you can bury as many time capsules as you want. Nature and our everyday natural habits are what will determine the historical facts about our existence more than what the mayor wants to use to tell the future. By the way, that Historic site is still in use today. A large visitors center was built a while ago and it is quite a place. Another site was found about 35 miles away on the Yellow River in Wisconsin. That site was used for two years, 1804-1806. And the information to what was found was collaborated directly from the journals that were kept by the fur trade company partners like the aforementioned John Sayer. Actual written records of the weather, how many deer were hunted for food, how many beaver and other small fur bearing animal pelts were harvested, the comings and goings of each individual voyageur and information about the native population they lived amongst during the time they were here. These records are archived in Ottawa, Canada.

Maybe the written word is all that might be needed in the time capsule. I would go through great pains to make sure it was written in truth. They’ll find out if we lied when they sort through a Waste Management trash heap.

Peace to all


Coffee Messiah said...

First, I'm so sorry to have read about your Mom! It's a tearful thing to read about anyones loved one, leaving this world. You did it nicely!

Hope you leave some oral histories for not only your family, but others as well.

I'm looking into getting more depth added to my brain, perhaps at a workshop in SF in August.

Working for the man, and being cheated by the man at our age, isn't sitting well. I won't give the miserly details, but in a nutshell, what I was told when I was hired 3 yrs ago, never occurred. As I can see, many are taking advantage of the economy, being the way it is. But if you're doing 2 jobs, where there were 4-5, and they give you a .17 an hr raise = $5.44 a wk more, they now, if you get a raise next year, need to do 3 jobs. Hence, no hiring.

Ugh...........aside form that, again, sorry to hear about your mom and my best to you and your family!!!! Cheers!

Mel said...

Boy--dunno what I'd put in a time capsule. But I do think you're right--our latrines will speak for us, no matter what we 'encapsulate'. At this point, I think that makes me sad.....

BOY what a fantastic place--and what a fun opportunity the two of you had to be involved in all that. The discovery of all that would have been so overwhelming to me. I get solemn when I stumble upon an arrowhead (and we have plenty of them around this area). I can only imagine where my head would go if all that started surfacing.

Christopher said...

Great post. Could I suggest that it goes into the time capsule?

Good to see the Union Jack flying in unexpected places.

This Eclectic Life said...

What great fun, Joe! I had thought about mentioning "unintentional" time capsules, but you told much more than I would have!
Yes, our trash is going to say a lot about us ... perhaps not in the way we would like. And, will future generations be able to understand the use of the items?
I've been lucky to find some unintentional time capsules from my family ... my great-grandfather's trunk filled with the junk he saved, a hatbox my grandmother filled with trinkets she liked, etc.
An iPod touch would be an excellent addition to a time capsule, because they will be obsolete then. I was thinking: a hardback book because I figure there will be no books at all in 100 years or so.

Great job!

susan said...

I really enjoyed reading 'The World Without Us' when it came out a couple of years ago. It pretty much says everything that can be said about what we'll leave behind. I'm guessing you'd enjoy it too once you get past the idea of there being no people left.

Spadoman said...

Thank you everyone for stopping by.

Coffee Messiah... Good to hear from you. Thank you for the condolence. The job market has workers by the ....., you know whats. Employers seem to be able to do what they want as so many people are saying, "I'm glad I have a job." The tables will turn,it's a matter of waiting them out. Until then, I hope you can endure.


Mel... It was fun doing living history. We dressed up and told the history while acting as if we were living in 1804. We actually lived on the other side of the Snake River in East Central Minnesota near Pine City. We'd paddle to and from work, just like the voyageurs had to do. It was great fun. Thanks for coming here and commenting.

Christopher.. Yes, we flew the Union Jack. The fur post was in costume as well as the tour guides. Thanks for being here.

Shelly... You started it. A great idea for a subject to talk about, and so much more can be said. I sometimes think of what the aliens might say when they look at us and see the humanoids following the dogs with plastic bags, picking up their scat. They must think the dogs are in charge, and in some cases, they are! Thanks for stopping by.

susan.. A Native Elder once told the story of how the world would get along just fine without the two-legged humans around, but it would cease immediately if the four-legged, winged ones, crawlers or swimmers went missing. I believe that.
I'll take that advice and look for that book. I'd like to read it. I have stories in my own head about the end times, maybe someday I'll write.

Peace, and thanks for stopping by at the Round Circle.

Peace to all.

mig said...

I can't think what I'd put in a time capsule. Maybe some books with pictures of flora and fauna. Maybe some seeds and dried flowers. A bit of bark rubbing. A handful of clean, organic earth. A rock or two. A bottle of water and a bag of air.

Because everything we people make will surely be around on trash heaps somewhere?