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Digging Up Dirt: 7 Lost Time Capsules

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According to the International Time Capsule Society at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, there are approximately 10,000 time capsules in the world. Unfortunately, they also estimate that no one remembers where 9,000 of them are buried. Here's what happened to seven of these lost collections.

1. State secret

Even though most time capsules contain little of monetary value, there's always that chance that someone will deface or damage them just to be a jerk. The City of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, developed an ingenious plan to prevent such vandalism when they decided to inter a time capsule in 1962. They elected a special committee to decide where the capsule should be buried and were then instructed to keep the location a secret. The men kept their word all right—perhaps a little too well.

Twenty-five years later, when the capsule was supposed to be dug up for the city's 100th anniversary in 1987, almost all of the committee members had died and none had passed on the time capsule's secret location. Only one member of the committee was still alive, and he couldn't remember where it was. To this day, the capsule is still hidden somewhere underneath the city.

2. Lost in space?

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of their San Diego headquarters, General Dynamics Astronautics placed a time capsule inside a concrete vault in 1963. Inside the capsule was a small book titled 2063 A.D., named for the year they intended to retrieve the capsule. The book was a series of interviews with politicians, military personnel, and those in the space program, offering educated predictions about life 100 years in the future.

For example, Brigadier General Irving Branch (USAF), suggested the moon would have a population of 100,000 by 2063; Mars' colony would be a quaint town of only 10,000. John Glenn thought we would have an anti-gravity rocket propulsion system that would take us further into space than we could even imagine possible. And then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson felt man would be able to control the weather, have the capability for global communications, and that commutes between space stations and planets would be an everyday event.

Unfortunately, when the General Dynamics building was torn down in the late-1990s, the time capsule could not be found and has been presumed destroyed. But all is not lost—the forward-thinkers of 1963 had the bright idea of printing around 200 copies of 2063 A.D. and distributing them to select universities all over the United States.

3. Signed, sealed, not delivered

The Bicentennial Wagon Train of 1976 consisted of 50 horse-drawn wagons, one for each state, traveling across the country following the traditional wagon trails that led the pioneers out West. Only this time, the travelers were going in the opposite direction—from the West Coast, back to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where they would take part in a huge Bicentennial celebration. Along the way, passing through towns big and small, they collected the signatures of a reported 22 million Americans. These signatures were placed inside a time capsule to be buried at a ceremony presided over by President Gerald Ford himself. However, moments before the big event, it was discovered that the capsule had been stolen from the back of the van, never to be seen again.

4. Resurfacing

Every once in a while, a supposedly long-lost time capsule will crop up again—like one of the two capsules that were supposed to be buried in 1953 as part of the centennial celebration of the Washington Territory (now the state of Washington). While the larger capsule was interred as planned, the smaller one was inexplicably left in a fifth floor storage room of the state Capitol building. It had been packed away inside a nondescript crate and would probably still be there today were it not for an earthquake that damaged the Capitol in 2001. While cleaning out the storage room, workers assumed the lead container held old mimeograph fluid. As they began to haul the crate out of the room, they noticed writing on the side that told them what they had really found.

In a risky move, the capsule was placed back into storage at another facility until the repairs to the Capitol building were completed. All went smoothly this time around, and the capsule was ultimately buried next to its big brother on the Capitol grounds in 2005. To ensure this type of thing doesn't happen again when the capsules are supposed to be opened in 2053, a small brass plaque was placed on the spot where they're buried, and a document describing the location was sent to the state's archives in both Olympia and Cheney, Washington.

5. Repeat offenders

The city of Corona, California, holds the all-time record for time capsules lost by one organization. As part of Corona's 1985 Labor Day celebration, 17 time capsules buried since the 1930s by local high school classes were meant to be retrieved. City workers began tearing up the concrete around civic hall where the first capsule was thought to be, but they came up empty. So they tried the next spot. Nothing. In all they dug 17 holes, tore up a lot of concrete, and found zero time capsules.

6. Photo proof

During the July 22, 1941, dedication of the 162-foot high Kingsley Dam on Lake McConaughy in Nebraska, a copper time capsule was ceremoniously lowered into a 100-foot hole somewhere along the expanse of the three-mile long dam. To commemorate the event, photos were taken, including one of two 12-year old girls who were chosen to cut the ribbon on a derrick that deposited the canister into the shaft. The capsule was meant to remain sealed inside the dam until 2041, the 100th anniversary of the Kingsley construction.

In 1991, officials thought it would be a good idea to designate the site of the capsule with a marker as part of the dam's 50th anniversary. There was just one problem: no one knew exactly where the capsule was anymore. They did recall that a plaque describing the location of the capsule had been sent to the state Capitol for safe-keeping—but no one at the Capitol building had ever seen or heard of such a plaque. Almost out of ideas, they started looking through the dam's archives and discovered the photos from the ceremony, including the one of the two girls cutting the ribbon. Thanks to the photographic evidence, they were finally able to track down the location of the capsule and put a sign on top.

7. It ain't rocket science

There is one time capsule that isn't exactly lost, but it might as well be. A brass capsule was placed on the campus of MIT in 1889. Unfortunately, everyone had forgotten it was there, and in 1939, the school chose the ground above it for the location of their cyclotron particle accelerator. The accelerator has since been deactivated, but the capsule is going to have to stay where it is for now—retrieving it would require moving the 36,000 pound cyclotron, and even the geniuses at MIT haven't figured out an easy way to do that yet.

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10 Fascinating Practices on UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage List
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ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

You've probably heard of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Sites—places like Machu Picchu, Auschwitz, and the Tower of London that UNESCO has deemed architecturally or historically important. But UNESCO doesn’t just choose important places to protect—it also maintains an Intangible Cultural Heritage List, which includes traditions and ways of life passed down from generation to generation and now in danger of being lost.

The list is rooted in a 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which created the list to raise visibility for the practices and encourage dialogue around cultural diversity. The list protects five types of cultural heritage: oral expression and traditions (including language); performing arts; social practices, rituals, and festivities; knowledge and practices about nature and the universe; and traditional craftsmanship.

In some ways, cultural heritage is even more fragile than buildings and archaeological sites because it lies in people’s memories, and so can be easily lost or changed with no real record to preserve it. And the results of a loss of cultural heritage can be dire: Culture helps define a minority group, and the loss of that culture can mean a disconnection from the past.

UNESCO now maintains two lists: the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding (the latter only includes items identified as needing immediate protection).

To be added to a list, an item must be nominated by one of the countries that is a party to the convention. A committee then meets annually to determine which practices should be added to the lists, based on whether they meet the convention's definitions of cultural heritage, whether inscribing the practice will encourage dialogue and awareness, and whether there's been wide involvement by the culture concerned, among other criteria.


Female divers (some as old as 80) from Jeju Island in the Republic of Korea have been collecting shellfish for hundreds of years. The divers, known as Haenyeo, submerge as much as 30 feet without scuba gear to harvest sea urchins and abalone, working up to seven hours a day. They hold their breath for a minute during each dive, and each makes a distinctive whistling noise when surfacing. Prayers are said to the goddess of the sea before the dives begin. The culture has played an important part in elevating women’s status on the island—women are the primary breadwinners in these families, and the haenyeo have become a symbol of the place.


Palestinian women over the age of 70 are part of this narrative tradition. During the winter, at gatherings of women and children (it's considered inappropriate for men to attend), the older women in the community tell fictional stories that critique society from the female point of view and, UNESCO notes, often reveal a conflict between "duty and desire." The storytelling involves rhythm, inflection, and other vocal arts, but is now on the decline due to the availability of mass media.


Mongol camel herders perform a special ritual when they want a mother camel to accept a newborn calf or adopt an orphan. The mother and calf are tied together and the camel coaxer sings a special song that includes gestures and chants designed to encourage the mother to accept the baby. A horse-head fiddle or flute is also played. The ritual reinforces social ties in the nomadic society, and is passed down from parent to child. But as motorcycles are replacing camels as transportation, the practice is in danger.


In the Pyrenees Mountains of Andorra, Spain, and France, residents from local villages carry flaming torches down the hills to light large beacons on the night of the summer solstice. Carrying the torches is a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, and setting the first fire is a special role given to priests, politicians, or the newly married. Unmarried girls greet the torch carriers with pastries and wine, and ashes are collected the next morning to put in gardens.


In Mongolia, residents play a game in which small teams of six to eight people flick pieces of marble across a table to push sheep knuckle bones into a target. The shooters wear personalized costumes denoting their rank in the game, and use individually created shooting tools. They also sing traditional tunes throughout the game.


In northern Vietnam, folk songs in the Nghệ Tĩnh dialect are sung while people harvest rice, row boats, make conical hats, or put children to sleep. The songs focus on the values important in that culture, including respect for parents, honesty, and goodness. The songs also provide a way for unmarried young men and women to share their feelings with each other.


Nomads in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan make round yurts for use as temporary, portable homes, as well as for ceremonies like weddings and funerals. A round wooden frame forms the basis for the structure, and is then covered in felt and braided ropes. Men create the wooden frame, while women create the outside covering and inside decorations, working in groups to create the intricate patterns and reinforce social values.


Quechua-speaking peasant communities in Peru come together each year to replace the suspension bridge over the Apurimac River in the Andes Mountains. The bridge is made of an unusual material—straw that's twisted and tied into ropes. The ropes are attached on each side of the river, and the bridge builders work until they meet in the middle. When the bridge is complete, a festival is held.


Buganda craftsmen from southern Uganda harvest bark from the Mutuba tree and beat the bark with wooden mallets until it is soft, cloth-like, and a terracotta color. The barkcloth is worn as togas by men and women (who add a sash to their outfit) during ceremonial events. The availability of cotton has resulted in a reduction in the production of this specialized cloth.


In Oostduinkerke, Belgium, 12 families harvest shrimp using horses. The Brabant horses walk breast-deep in the water parallel to the shore, pulling funnel-shaped nets. They also pull a chain along the bottom, which causes vibrations that make the shrimp jump into the nets. The caught shrimp are then carried in baskets attached to the horses’ sides. Each family specializes in a particular part of the practice, such as caring for the horses or weaving nets. The community celebrates this heritage with a yearly Shrimp Festival.

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This Just In
How to Tell if You're a 'Xennial'
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Generational labels began to take off with the Baby Boomers—those born in postwar America in a prospering, increasingly suburban environment. Then there was Generation X, the brooding, alt-rock-consuming cluster of babies. They were followed by the Millennials, those coming of age around 2000 and who easily adapted to the digital revolution.

Those broad strokes may now include the Xennials, a specific "micro-generation" of babies born between 1977 and 1983 who grew up with some of the basic tenets of pre-digital technology—landline phones, broadcast television, and handwritten letters—who then adapted to social media in their 20s.

The segment of the population has been identified by Dan Woodman, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Woodman believes Xennials deserve their own banner because of their hybrid youth that straddled the line between the last gasp of quaint communications and the rise of the internet.

"It was a particularly unique experience," Woodman told "You have a childhood, youth, and adolescence free of having to worry about social media posts and mobile phones. It was a time when we had to organize to catch up with our friends on the weekends using the landline, and actually pick a time and a place and turn up there. Then we hit this technology revolution before we were maybe in that frazzled period of our life with kids and no time to learn anything new. We hit it where we could still adopt, in a selective way, the new technologies."

Xennials' attitudes, Woodman says, are distinct from Gen X's pessimism and Millennial optimism because they've had a toe in two very different cultural landscapes. Time will tell if Woodman's Xennial label will catch on, but odds are if you grew up with a Trapper Keeper and are now reading this on a mobile device, you probably qualify as one.

[h/t Daily Mail]


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