Preserving Our History in a Tomb (Dec, 1938)

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Preserving Our History in a Tomb


THE YEAR is 8113. Spired cities built by the ancient people of the twentieth century have long since crumbled to dust. Of the airplanes and automobiles in which they traveled, not a rusted scrap remains. Their perishable tools, utensils, books, magazines, and newspapers have vanished completely. What learning they possessed is but dimly known. But where Oglethorpe University once stood, in what was Atlanta, Ga., a band of archaeologists has just unearthed a door of stainless steel. They break it open—and find themselves in a treasure house of the past. Pictures and records, perfectly preserved through the ages, tell them in every detail the long-forgotten story of what life was like in 1938.

That is the romantic, breath-taking vision that is taking practical form at Oglethorpe University today. Into a crypt as large as an average living room, hollowed out of the granite bed rock beneath the campus and lined with walls of gleaming chromium, experts are stuffing motion-picture films, copies of present-day encyclopedias, textbooks, works of art, and models of machines that will give future historians a complete picture of their distant ancestors.

When the crypt is filled, the air in it will be replaced with inert nitrogen gas, and it will be sealed against the ravages of the ages. Graven in a plaque upon the stainless-steel door, a message will direct that the vault be opened in 8113—a date chosen because it is as far in the future as the first recorded date in history, the beginning of the Egyptian calendar, is in the past.

For the first time, points out Dr. Thornwell Jacobs, president of the university and originator of the project, the art of copying books and pictures in reduced size on movie film permits storing a vast bulk of priceless records in limited space. Duplicate “microfilm” copies of volumes for the Georgia vault are being made upon standard cellulose acetate film and upon tissue-thin metal film, a new invention that is believed still more durable. To prepare it, the image of the negative is etched into stainless steel, nickel, or copper by photo-engraving methods. An inlay of another metal, such as platinum, is then deposited in the etched portions. The result is an indestructible picture on metal in black upon a white background.

Five rolls of film, surrounded by inert gas, are sealed in a glass tube. Protected by a layer of asbestos, the tube in turn is placed in a seamless receptacle of stainless steel, a foot long and four inches in diameter. The receptacle itself is inclosed in a ribbed casting of extra-strong alloy, capable of resisting a crushing force of thousands of pounds. Row upon row of these receptacles will line the metal shelves of the crypt. Barring accident, their contents should be found in perfect condition after sixty centuries!

Suppose the location of the vault is for- gotten with passing centuries? Descriptions of the deposit, engraved on metal, will be placed in all the great libraries and museums of the world, and even in such out-of-the-way places as monasteries in Tibet and temples in China and India! Some one of these clews will almost inevitably be discovered. If English is an unknown tongue by 8113, how can the records be deciphered ? The first thing to meet the eye of a person entering the vault will be a movie machine of the pioneer “mutoscope” type, with the addition of a phonograph attachment. Turning a crank reveals one of 3,000 metal plates, bearing, say, a picture of an apple and “APPLE” in print. Sound apparatus then pronounces the word.

Since no one knows what sort of electric current people will use in 8113 A.D., if it is available at all, a windmill generator will provide current for the electric sound-film projector.

Records to be stored away will include sound films of the voices of present-day leaders, stereoscopic photos of all the world’s masterpieces of sculpture, a year-by-year history-in-pictures of the United States for the last 100 years, and the world’s greatest masterpieces of poetry. Models will show every essential kind of modern tool and machine, household utensils and tableware, and great engineering feats. A complete set of costumes for men and women will be preserved in helium gas. There will be cook books, histories, science textbooks, and books of practical instruction in mechanics, engineering, and all the arts and manufactures. Two Popular Science handbooks are to be included. Supermen of 8113 may be chagrined to find that some of their inventions were anticipated as early as the twentieth century. Or, if world war or some natural cataclysm has made mankind revert to a barbaric state by that time, the “lost arts” preserved in the Georgia crypt might conceivably start the race back along the road to civilization.

  1. jayessell says: April 17, 20088:24 am

    If you liked this article you may enjoy…

    The Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay…


    The Weans by Robert Nathan
    “Nothing has so completely stirred the imagination of the entire
    civilized world as the discover of a civilization, lost for more
    than 5,000 years, of the Weans of the Great West, or Salt, Continent.
    Now for the first time this fascinating story of the expeditions
    of Kenya’s greatest scientists is told — in terms comprehensible
    to the general reader.”

    (Don’t order from UK unless you have to. Nice photo of cover.)

    (I heard a Sci-fi radio adaptation of this once, set in the Wood of Holly.
    They thought placing feet in cement was a punishment.)
    ((Well, if you use enough it is.))

  2. jayessell says: April 17, 20088:42 am

    Found it!

    “One of the cleverest shows is ‘Report on the Weans’.
    It is the year 7956 and archeologists have found remnants
    of our time and attempt to explain our civilization.
    It is humorous such as when the archeologist’s attempts
    to pronounce the name “Elvis Presley”, but it is at the
    same time a poignant reflection on the study of human existence.

    Each show is different and The CBS Radio Workshop is a
    unique collection of radio shows at the end of the radio era.”…

    (They got the Elvis part right.)

  3. jayessell says: April 17, 200812:28 pm

    Check out picture of the archeologists of the future.
    They’re wearing oxygen masks as if Earth’s atmosphere was toxic!

  4. dculberson says: April 17, 20083:00 pm

    If we can’t preserve a Plymouth for 50 years, how could we possibly hope to preserve film for over 7,000 years?

  5. dculberson says: April 17, 20083:01 pm

    Oops.. I meant over 6,000 of course. Me do math gud.

  6. jayessell says: April 17, 20087:07 pm

    Found it again!
    Here’s the actual radio show.
    Sorry it’s in Realplayer.
    There’s a converter, isn’t there?…

  7. KA Turner says: April 18, 200812:13 am

    The crew who preserved the Plymouth didn’t make its tomb airtight or watertight. They just sealed it over with a lid and coated the vehicle in a greased cloth of some form. Not good enough, I must say. And you don’t expose a tomb to potentially seismic forces as in a city square. The Georgia bunch did it right and so did the 1939 World’s Fair personnel. No air, water, or rust allowed, please.

  8. DrRocket says: April 18, 20089:15 am

    Ahhhh, so OK, what is the current status of either of these sites? Me, I’m going digging into th available records; I’m curious…

  9. DrRocket says: April 18, 20089:22 am

    Well, it seems that both are doing quite well…


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