South Africa’s Vault containing 4,500 time capsules to be opened in 101 years’ time

Imagine the possibility of sending a message to your great grandchildren 100 years after death; telling them things that happened in 2019–all the negative predictions climate change scientists have of the future in 100 years’ time and asking them if those predictions came to pass. Yes, you can pass on all the information you’d like to pass on through a time capsule. South Africa is creating one that will be filled with present-day information for future generations’ use.

As part of a global project, South Africa is creating a time capsule that will be filled and sealed in November 2019 only to be reopened in 2120, 101 years into the future.

Time capsules are vehicles for self-commemoration, a means to ensure that future generations (anthropologists, scientists and historians most especially include the 21st century inventions and project in the stories they tell, and understand the 21st century better.

According to Eugene Botha, managing director of Vault 2120 International in South Africa, “We want to do something that has never been done before. It’s a social, historical, scientific experiment if you will.”

“One of the reasons we are doing this is because the world is changing at a very fast pace,” he added.

The aim of the vault is to help coming generations understand their past and give them clues as to how they can approach the future. With Vault 2120, people can buy space for their precious belongings that their generations yet unborn will discover sometime in the future. Even companies and institutions are allowed to deposit their documents and technologies into the time capsules.

The vault and its thousands of time capsules will be buried at least two metres underground at the Maropeng Visitor Centre in the Cradle of Humankind at the Heritage museum in South Africa.

Vault 2021 is not the first of such. On May 25, 1999, state-owned utility firm, Eskom, buried a time capsule close to the Energy Statue at Megawatt Park, Eskom’s Head Office in Sandton, South Africa. Currently, a video recording of the ceremony is stored in the Megawatt Park Information Centre.

The capsule is to be opened on Eskom’s 100th anniversary which will be on March 1, 2023. According to Eskom, the sealed time capsule holding records and objects is storing a selection of materials that are representative of life in the organization at the then present time. But did anyone see the current troubles at Eskom coming? We’d have to wait till 2023 to find out.

Presently, 14 countries, including the United Kingdom, have a time capsule buried somewhere. Some countries, such as India, have more than one time capsule – India has five. However, South Africa is the first African country to adopt the practice.

As interesting as it is to preserve history in time capsules, the challenge however is the conflicting stories that can be gotten from these time capsules. There are manufactured time capsules like the one South Africa is building and accidental time capsules like the sunken Titanic of the Egyptian tombs.

Manufactured time capsules may tell a type of story about us while accidental capsules may tell another. Manufactured are directional, more or less telling future generations what to think about the 20th and 21st century and it might not capture everything in its entirety even though it does justice at ensuring that things are preserved and not lost in the course of time. Whereas, accidental time capsules like the Titanic sealed at the bottom of the sea capture different unpredictable moments in time. Accidental time capsules afford the possibility of retrieving context alongside content as objects are experienced in their proper place even though the time of event and the time of discovery are years apart.

These sudden and unexpected time capsules are frozen in time and the stories they tell would be truly objective compared to when they are created. Historical objectivity is easily achieved through destruction rather than creation. This is because disasters come about with little or no warning, people have no opportunity to muck up the reality of their daily living, store certain documents or essentials through selectivity, distortion, and suppression. It is said that Catastrophe best reveals who we are.

The International Time Capsule Society, an organization established to promote the study of time capsules since 1990, estimates that there are between 10,000 and 15,000-time capsules worldwide.