How can I make a time capsule that will withstand underground elements for about 15 years?
By Barbara from Mashpee, MA
I think a metal tool box inside a large plastic leaf bag should do it. We're always hearing about how long it takes plastic to break down.
A good container for a time capsule would be a five-gallon heavy duty plastic bucket with a handle and a lid. New, empty, clean ones are available at warehouse stores such as Smart and Final. Some businesses buy these types of buckets with lard, laundry detergent, or other bulk material in them, and once they have used the contents, they throw the buckets and lids away, so you might try asking around to find if any local businesses such as restaurants have empty ones they might give away to you for free.
However, if a bucket contained pickles or other ingredients with a strong odor, it may be impossible to remove the odor completely, and it will taint anything you put into the bucket, and off course, you would not want to re-use a bucket that once contained a possibly hazardous substance such as a degreasing agent used by an auto repair shop.
Be sure everything you place inside the time capsule container is absolutely dry, because even a miniscule amount of moisture would migrate around inside it and damage or destroy all of the contents; a desiccant (a material that absorbs water) would be a good thing to include inside a time capsule.
Although you might be tempted to include canned food or a bottle of wine or something else containing liquid, keep in mind that if the contents of a can rusts through or the cork or cap of a bottle fails with the passage of time, the entire contents of the time capsule will be destroyed. Do not place any batteries or devices with batteries in them inside the time capsule; batteries can leak as they age, and the acid in them is very corrosive to metals and will damage other materials.
If you want to include information for posterity, remember that what you record it on could be obsolete by the time the capsule is opened - just think of floppy disks, 8-track tape cassettes, VHS tapes, and so forth - almost no one one now has machines that can read or display what is recorded on them. Your best bet might be to go with good old fashioned ink on paper and photographs printed on photo-quality paper.
You can purchase inexpensive books with blank pages and lined notebooks such as Composition Notebooks. You could take a notebook and go around asking people a question, such as, "What is the purpose of life?" or "What is your typical day like?" or "What is important to you?" or something else, and writing their answers, their names, age or date of birth, and the date you asked the question, in the book, and include this in your time capsule for people to read in the future. A pair of men's shoes and a pair of women's shoes and some other articles of clothing would be great to include.
Include information from your interests and the interests of other people; for example, if you like to cook, write down a few of your favorite recipes to include; if you like to make things by hand such as crafts or jewelry or fishing lures, include a few examples of your best work. Photographs are very important because people and places and things change dramatically over time; take photographs of your home, the street you live on, the main streets and attractions of your community, parks, schools you attended and places where you worked, your church or temple or synagogue, your pets, your vehicle, individuals and groups of people, and people doing things such as playing or picnicking or working.
Each photograph should have complete information about it: date taken, names of people in it, location, and anything else that might be important to people seeing it in the future. Place the lid on the container, and use a rubber mallet or something similar to completely tamp down the lid onto the container for a good, tight seal.
A time capsule can be buried in the ground (preferably 'high ground' that does not flood or get completely saturated with water), but one could also be placed inside the wall of a building, inside the base of a statue, inside a stone or brick or concrete wall outside, under pavement such as a driveway or sidewalk, or even in an attic, crawl space, in the space under the stairs, or in a seldom-accessed storage area. Now here's something to think about: Suppose you place a time capsule somewhere, and everyone who knows about it dies or moves away or forgets about it - how are you going to make a record of its location so that someone, perhaps someone who will never know or meet you, can know of its existence?
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