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Man Crafts: Time Capsule

10 September 2011 11,597 views 8 Comments

by mikeasaurus

Time capsules are historic caches of memorabilia specific to a time, people or place.They are then stashed away somewhere for a period of time to be uncovered and opened at a predetermined date. Of course these are all loose guidelines which can be easily modified to suit your needs.

It might seem like burying a time capsule is as easy but there is quite a lot of careful planning that needs to take place if you intend to get your capsule back, especially if your time capsule is buried for 10 years or more.

Materials List:

  • plastic seal-able container (with gasket) ($1.00)
  • mementos
  • SD Card / USB stick
  • Letter to yourself
  • a good familiar location you will never forget

Total: $1.00
Let's get started!


Capsule Material

The first decision you will have to make is what kind of container you want to use as your capsule. Container choice is important because it needs to last a really long time and be able to withstand the environment which it will placed.

Plastic
I recommend using a plastic container as it's durable, inexpensive, available in almost any size, is inert and most containers can be sealed airtight.
Metal
Metal might seem like a good choice as it's durable and cookie-tins are probably stacking up in some closet somewhere, but I wouldn't recommend it. Metal containers can break down over time and can react with dissimilar metals both inside and out of the container.
Also, metal is prone to rust if it gets wet and the structure can be crushed if the material is damaged.

Glass
I had originally planned to use a large mustard jar fo my capsule, the size was right and it had a ruber gasket to seal it up airtight, however glass can be shattered. Since I was planning to bury my time capsule I couldn't risk some soil heaving from frost shattering my capsule within the first year. Glass may be durable and airtight, but is a poor choice because it can break so easily.
Wood
Wood boxes look great but may rot over time and collapse, ruining your capsule cache. Also, wood boxes are not airtight.


Capsule Contents

Once you've got your container you can decide what you are going to put inside. Time capsules work best when there is some tangible connection between the person who buried the capsule and the person who will open it. This may or may not be the same person, so keep that in mind when including items in your capsule.I buried my time capsule with the intention that I would come back in 10 years and uncover it. Because my capsule is personal I chose to include some personal items inside that would resonate with the future-me. Here's what I included in my time capsule:

  • A letter to future-me which included a brief summary of what is going on in my life right now, what my future goals and aspirations, the kind of person I want to be ten years from now and what i think the future is going to be like when I uncover the capsule.
  • I also included a mind-map, a graphic method of categorizing events and important aspects of my life.
  • Souveniers from the Vancouver 2010 Olympics (my hometown)
  • A newspaper clipping from 2000 where I was published for an event I attended. And, a newspaper clipping from the day i buried the capsule.
  • An SD card with pictures and music.
  • Childhood trinkets and stickers

Remember it's going to be you that reaps the benefits of your thoughts and efforts now, so have fun with your time capsule. Make an impression, leave some inside jokes or other things that are sure to make you smile when you rediscover your buried treasure.


Capsule Location

Location, location, location. This will be the toughest portion of this project.
Consider that any location is not going to be ideal, there is always a risk of something happening to your capsule, whether it's being found by another person, you not being able to locate it again, or some other unforeseen event that prohibits collection of your time capsule years later.
If you can't or are unable to retrieve your time capsule you will be very disappointed (especially if you waited 10 years!).

Spend some time to carefully plan out where your capsule will be located. Depending on where you live some places are better than others, your location and situation will dictate where the most suitable place will be for your capsule.

Here's a list of possibilities along with my thoughts about each of them

Inside your home (attic, basement, etc.):

  • Pros: Secure, easily accessible, favourable climate conditions and will be easily found again when you are ready, low chance of area changing.
  • Cons: Not entirely out of sight (or mind), may be found by unknowing family/friends, low mystery-value. What if you move?

Buried in your back yard:

  • Pros: Easily accessible, easily found, low chance of landscape changing (losing your location).
  • Cons: Not entirely out of sight (or mind), may interfere with underground utilities, may be dug up by pets, low mystery-value. What if you move?

In public space (city parks/greenspaces, etc.):

  • Pros: Easily accessible.
  • Cons: Easily found by others, may be issues retrieving capsule later, high probability of area changing over time

In the woods:

  • Pros: Abundance of places to hide/bury capsule, low chance of anyone finding capsule
  • Cons: Difficult to relocate years later, difficult to access.

The mystery-value is the cognizant element of the time capsule. If you have it on your mantle and stare at it every day the mystery of what is inside is lost, thereby defeating the entire exercise of hiding you cache. For maximum effect the time capsule should be somewhere that you can completely forget about until you are ready to retrieve it, thereby enhancing the mystery-value of the capsule contents, as you've surely forgotten what's inside.


I do not own a house, or have a yard, nor do I know (or want to rely on) someone who does have these. For me, I wanted the most flexibility in finding my capsule again and didn't want to rely on any real estate or other people to provide me with space to dig up my capsule when I am ready. As such, I chose to bury my capsule outside in a location I was sure to remember. There is a place near where I grew up which has some personal significance, a place I know I will never forget and can easy come back to and visit any time I want.
I found a young maple tree and decided to bury my capsule nearby. Though the tree may look different 10 years on I know I know it'll still be here and not fallen over in a wind storm, or removed. Using a small shovel I dug down about 1/2 a meter (~2') and placed my capsule in the hole. After I filled the hole with loose soil and tampered down with my foot.

The next step after burying my time capsule is to mark the location so I'll be able to locate it again years from now.

Even though I was sure I'd remember the location I chose I wanted to make extra sure, so I left a few markers to help guide me when I came back to retrieve the capsule.

Ground reference:

I placed a large rock over where the capsule was buried with a ring of smaller rocks around it. My location was far enough away from where anyone would stumble across it, so I wasn't concerned about the strange array of rocks attracting unwanted snooping visitors. For added identification I smeared wax all over the large rock. Wax is a good choice as it's waterproof, is not highly visible from a distance but adds uniqueness to the location, lasts for years, moss can't grow over rock, and will provide sure identification of my location (in case someone was sneaky enough to do something similar near where my capsule is buried).

Wax on rocks. Better than paint, as it's less likely to fade over time. And wax is very distinct, even years later. There will be nothing else even close to a huge mess of wax on a pile of rocks, even if the rocks are overgrown with ivy.

Tree reference:

Since my location is near a tree I thought another visual reference on the tree would be a huge help for retrieval years later.

You can use a ribbon, or any other visual identifier to help guide you to your secret location. I wanted something a little more artistic for my tree so I made a tree charm, a modern take on a talisman. Your tree marker can be anything, whatever it takes to get you to find it again years later.
Now all that's left is to record where you left your time capsule when you get home and wait a few years. How long you wait is up to you, I chose 10 years. I'll come back to my memorable spot sometime in September in 2021 (possibly in my hovercar) and dig up my cache.
I wonder if I'll be able to resist rereading this article between now and then?

So, what's going in your time capsule?

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8 Comments »

  • Michelle L. said:

    Great tips, Mikeasuarus, lots of things I wouldn’t have thought of!

  • Kiteman said:

    I remember when Blue Peter (a long-time BBC kids programme) dug up a time capsule they’d buried decades earlier – it was half full of water, and most of the documents they had put in it were ruined.

  • mikeasaurus (author) said:

    @kiteman,
    Oh no, retrieval of capsule in undamaged form is the only measure of success. Was the container Blue Peter used suitable for burial, and did it have the ever-important gasket seal that many modern containers have?

  • heather said:

    I love how detailed you were in all the info, Mikeasaurus! Thanks for the great article!

  • Caitlyn said:

    careful with digital media – USB is already being supplanted and may not be easy to access in ten years. SD cards will be around longer, but that format will no doubt be supplanted some day as well. No doubt there will be companies that will retrieve the data, but sticking to hard copies is much safer.

  • Zowie said:

    love the instructables sticker!

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