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How to build something that lasts 10k years (bbc.com)
176 points by wpietri on June 12, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 139 comments

Finland is building nuclear waste storage facility which is planned to last for 100.000 years.

There are quite few interesting design decisions to be made taking this lifespan in to account, for example if current civilization will be wiped out, what symbols you should put on a door to discourage someone in future to opening the door.



This place is a message... and part of a system of messages ...pay attention to it!

Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.

This place is not a place of honor... no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here... nothing valued is here.

What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.

The danger is in a particular location... it increases towards a center... the center of danger is here... of a particular size and shape, and below us.

The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.

The danger is to the body, and it can kill.

The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.

The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited


Funny thing is, if we discovered some ancient tomb or burial site with these messages we'd write it off as superstition and open it up anyway. I'm not sure some future civilization would be any different.

I agree. Hiding something and saying "please don't look for it," seems extraordinarily naïve of human nature.

If the threat is widespread human and environmental destruction, I wonder if an additional layer of warning does not need to consist of more constrained lethality. "We're going to show you what this stuff is, you should've really paid attention to the warnings."

"It is a place of evil: all who venture into the pit die in agony within a few days," seems like something that would have more cultural weight. And be trivially re-discoverable at any point. People don't go wandering into lava to see what's below. People wouldn't have stripped the Egyptian tombs if the warnings on the wall consistently came true. Perhaps the best warning of danger is danger.

And then, if the threat model is drilling, it seems to me very unlikely that a future mining civilisation would not understand pictures, maps and diagrams illustrating the content. Is an illustration really more culturally ambiguous than language?

Especially given we know cave paintings from several thousand years ago are relatively intelligible. People hunting bison.

You are totally right. I read that and I felt a chill right up my back telling me, There's cool stuff in there, go get your crowbar!

I thought someone was quoting halo at first.

Anyway, that's probably the reason that energy line is here. But you'd simply check everything you can measure at the time, conclude superstition and continue anyway.

I also particularly liked the idea of covering it with a layer of small boulders to make it unappealing to agriculture. It's like, have you ever heard of New England?

But is that better than leaving things lying around in unmarked caves? People's curiosity might kill them, but the best you can do is warn them.

I used this text as an intro to the classic D&D adventure "Tomb of Horrors" - in my reimagining, the ancient evil at the bottom of the tomb was its civilization's version of nuclear waste.

That sphere of Annihilation.... our first 'total party kill'.

Are there recognized symbols for vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, weight loss reaching near skeletal stages and finally death? Along with some kind of indicators for passage of time that seems more useful at least for high exposure areas.

The issue with that is we can make 0 assumptions about the culture we are trying to communicate with so pictograms aren't a good medium to begin with but let's set that aside. Consider maybe they don't even read left to right or top to bottom so now without carefully making sure they know how time is represented your message can be interpreted as one of resurrection and healing maybe?

Some things, like the passage of the sun in the sky, should be universal. Literally every civilization on Earth is familiar with the concept of a day. Death is a universal concept too.

Of course there is no helping if the future people are especially dismissive of your warnings, but they should suffer from debilitating radiation sickness before they get too far away, so at least the leak would be somewhat contained.

Interesting story idea for a post-apocalyptic agrarian society where some guy wipes out his rival's towns by lightly burying preapocalyptic nuclear waste in the town square to kill off the inhabitants while preaching about curses and gods smiting the inhabitants for their sins.

Yeah time was meant more as just an illustration of how careful we have to be with and pictographic warnings because of how little we can take for granted about the people we are trying to warn.

Right. If you're assuming written language will have entirely changed, barring some earth-wide catastrophe we can (likely) assume a future civilization will understand the IDEA of radiation - making the actual danger and representation of radiation the most important element to communicate.

Why not exploit human evolutionary psychology for the task? A lawnmower warning label would communicate more to future civilizations than a poem translated in several dozen languages. (https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/VJYAAOSw~xlaqj-d/s-l1600.jpg)

Gory imagery always gets the job done.

Except it doesn't, also because of psychology.

The ancient Egyptians learned this the hard way. Many of their tombs were marked with graphic warnings threatening anyone who disturbed them with various horrible ends. But most of them were robbed regardless, and those that weren't were eventually cracked open by 19th and 20th century archaeologists.

That wasn't because the people violating those tombs didn't understand the warnings (the archaeologists certainly did). It was for two reasons:

1. Some people, like the archaeologists, are going to read the warnings and dismiss them as dumb ancient superstitions; and

2. Other people, like ancient grave robbers, are going to read the warnings and think "Huh. They really want me to stay out of that place. There must be something really valuable in there!"

I wonder if Indiana-Jones-style death traps would successfully show trespassers that the site's builders were serious, or if this would only attract more curiosity.

Most of the best traps can only be sprung once, or at most a few times. So you get the first trespasser, but everyone after that just walks over it.

And honestly, Indiana Jones style traps would never survive 10 years of deferred maintenance, much less 10,000 years. Even simple traps like weak floors over spike filled pits would tend to rot and collapse over the years, especially if you need to build it lightly enough that a single person can trigger it unknowingly.

The only Egyptian tombs that survived to the modern era were the ones so well hidden that nobody had managed to stumble across them.

Also not having a pile of gold at the end of the tunnel might help.

Then again, we can't really know if the future civilization will consider out spent nuclear fuel as a pretty good store of value.

the radiation is the death trap

I was thinking the same. However, the problem is not to avoid people from getting in and causing harm to themselves, but them getting the dangerous stuff out and causing harm to others who actually heeded the warnings. You'd need extremely strong radiation

If you're talking about 10,000 years in the future it may not matter so much since the radioactivity would be much less after so many half lives.

Exactly. You can't rely on the radiation itself as a deterrent.

How about actual corpses arranged so that they look as if they died violently?

Not the exact message, but definitely should give pause to anybody visiting the place in the far future.

"Somebody made that place super dangerous to get into. There must be something really valuable in there!"

I'd go the other way... Give the impression there was something really valuable in there.

Have a main chamber with a solid pedestal in the center. Then, on walls throughout the complex, depict some golden treasure that never existed resting on said pedestal using wall art.

Imagine a scavenger, with a clear vision in their head of what the chamber looks like, arriving in an empty room: "Someone must have already raided this place."

Meanwhile, the nuclear material is under that chamber.

Then don't make the place inaccessible. If you're warning people about a threat, you need to show them where the threat is, not hide it.

I suppose it's because without any context a pictogram like this could be interpreted as a letter or a symbol, not an actual warning. It's not immediately obvious looking at this that it's a human hand being stabbed. Also it doesn't convey that the thing stabbing you is invisible. And if you figure out that the stabbing thing is burried then you might want to dig it out to use as a weapon against others.

"This is where you get poison rocks to put in the rivers of enemies."

Why do we care more about people 10k years into the future than we do about the ones alive today? It's ok for pollution and wars to take lives, why isn't it ok to do so in the future?

Also, why do they assume future visitors will enter through the front door? I thought their intention was to bury the entrance and erase all signs it existed.

I believe a while ago I read a fanfiction where the characters in the story found this place. They didn't understand the warning until they all suffered from ARS.

Was it the MLP fanfiction 'The Writing on the Wall'?[0] I'm not a brony, but it's actually a really good read. It would be better if the finders are real far future preindustrial civilization though, since the ponies have access to magic and should've found out about the danger of radiation BEFORE going in, but eh.

Here's a summary from Tvtropes: >The Writing on the Wall is a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic by Horse Voice. Daring Do is asked to help in the excavation of the most ancient tomb known to ponykind - thousands of years older than the oldest known masonry, with incredible craft and skill going into the construction of the impressive edifice. Ancient text in a number of languages, all of them long since lost, is carved into every surface in one of the rooms of the structure nearest to the surface, likely some kind of curse meant to warn away would-be looters. Workers work to breach the walls below, to find the secrets of this ancient place, but perhaps they should have heeded the writing on the wall.

[0] http://www.fimfiction.net/story/42409/the-writing-on-the-wal...

Possibly, yes.

These messages were listed in succession in an art installation as part of the Amsterdam light festival. An intriguingly dark contrast to the rest of the atmosphere.

Doesn't embedding these messages into art defy their very purpose of being a warning?

That list was never intended to be literally used as a warning - think of it as a set of acceptance criteria against which any plan to mark a nuclear waste disposal site must be judged. It needs to communicate those things, unambiguously, across time and culture, for 10000 years.

These messages aren't currently used as warnings, and exhibiting them as art will never diminish the literal message that they convey.

I am just thinking that, if future archeologists discover these warnings / language in frequent association with art, then they will probably not think twice about excavating an actual nuclear disposal site that exhibits them. They will probably think that the warnings were placed there to scare away thieves.

The warnings will not be in English.

I find that irresistible. I want to go check it out!

As if Cesaer, Napoleon, Adolf, Stalin, Atilia, or Ghengis would not immediately rip that open and force slaves/captives to carry it into enemy camps and armies.

Guys, it's not the waste that's the problem here.

99 Percent Invisible has a great episode[1] discussing exactly this kind of facility in New Mexico and the consternation it caused for a committee of some of the greatest minds of the 20th century that was tasked with attempting to write the perfect 10,000 year message.

My favorite part: "Bastide and Fabbri came to the conclusion that the most durable thing that humanity has ever made is culture: religion, folklore, belief systems. They may morph over time, but an essential message can get pulled through over millennia. They proposed that we genetically engineer a species of cat that changes color in the presence of radiation, which would be released into the wild to serve as living Geiger counters. Then, we would create folklore and write songs and tell stories about these “ray cats,” the moral being that when you see these cats change colors, run far, far away."

The chosen folklore was a song about ray kitties changing color... If you listen to the episode you'll get to hear it in all its glory.

[1] https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/ten-thousand-years/

>Bastide and Fabbri came to the conclusion that the most durable thing that humanity has ever made is culture: religion, folklore, belief systems.

I'm not sure if I agree with this. I think that there is a ludicrous amount of survivorship bias at play with culture. How much do we know about ancient Egypt through culture and not the writings and structures that were left behind? How much do we know about some of the European cultures from ancient times? We really don't know much about ancient Estonia or Finland. We do know a lot about other ancient cultures, but that's because they dominated and continued to dominate for a long time. If our civilization dies off to the degree that people can't decipher simple messages about the danger of radiation, then I think that the cultural aspect of it has died too.

Edit: I understand that writings are culture, but I'm talking about cultural practices or values.

Here are some examples that make me give the idea a little credence -

To this day, despite over 1000 years of Christianity, Russian people continue to uphold some superstitions (and, in the case of 'Maslenitsa'[1], holidays) that trace their origin to pagan pre-Kievan Rus'. Strange phenomenons that never found an adoption by the Orthodox church, e.g. that each house possesses its own spirit ('Domovoy'[2]), and that you best remember him and ask for good luck and protection when you leave for a long trip by looking in the mirror and sitting still, in silence, for a few minutes right before you depart. Fail to do so and you have no one to blame but yourself when you return to find it burglarized..! (Or so my immediate family sternly lectured me)

Actually, here we have a fairly ancient holiday, too - Valentine's day's origin can trace itself to when the Romans decided to rebrand the fertility festival Lupercalia, keeping the message (a day devoted to romance) the same, but putting a stop to revelers beating each other with skinned dogs and copulating in the streets.[3]

My point is that while we may forget why we do certain rituals or superstitions, our cultural memes are often imprinted onto us for hundreds of years or more (think weddings!), provided that our culture has descendants to carry the tales. So this makes Bastide and Fabbri's idea not so outlandish. However, it's very difficult to control what cultural memes stick and which ones die - sometimes, it's pure randomness. I guess these folks were betting on the slim chance of the song being so ludicrous and catchy, that it will just have to be told over and over for generations...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslenitsa [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domovoy [3] https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-rome/lupercalia

There's evidence that a story passed down orally for up to 30k years was true:


The project's president has said that no symbols at all might be better than any universal warning symbol they could hope to produce, such as a skull and crossbones. Leaving the site unmarked could be less likely to encourage investigation and disturbance of it in the future.


That makes more sense to me. It’s not like these waste canisters are going to somehow float to the surface. The biggest problem would have to be sealing the entrance and descending tunnels in such a way to keep the site hidden. Is that possible? If you could do that then the only danger would be a sufficiently advanced culture for some reason trying to drill or dig in that area. And why would they do that if the geology of the area isn’t one which would lead them to expect minerals. Fast forward any further and they’re only going to discover it with some kind of ground penetrating radar which indicates a pretty sophisticated society.

According to the Wikipedia article above:

>The Onkalo repository is expected to be large enough to accept canisters of spent fuel for around one hundred years, i.e. until around 2120.[10] At this point, the final encapsulation and burial will take place, and the access tunnel will be backfilled and sealed.

So they're already planning to fill the tunnels completely. Considering the depth of the main facility, I would think this will make it very difficult for a primitive civilization to reach the facility even if they found the former entrance and wanted to investigate.

I don't know about the one in Finland, but the one in New Mexico is in the Permian Basin[1]. There are oil and gas resources all over the place. There are also Potash mines right next to the New Mexico facility (and it itself is a salt mine). Leaving it unmarked poses a real risk that someone someone will drill or dig into it accidentally looking for resources.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian_Basin_(North_America)

”And why would they do that if the geology of the area isn’t one which would lead them to expect minerals.”

Any significant structure would introduce a gravitational and/or magnetic anomaly. Given that, keeping the structures as small as possible seems the way to go, but of course, you also want to contain the waste for thousands of years.

On the other hand, one could hope that anybody who can detect such anomalies knows about radiation, too.

Wouldn’t the best option in planning for regression be making it inaccessible and unreachable—really hard to get to without technology?

Once people have technology back, then presumably they’d be able to detect radiation and avoid the contaminated location?

In 100000 years the biggest threat is probably glaciation submerging very large areas of Finland.

Personally, I think you make it as dangerous as possible. So rather than shielding the waste, make it deadly in a matter of hours or minutes.

This won't prevent people from trying to extract the contents, but it should prevent them for succeeding. I think a few dead grave robbers / explorers is preferable to the waste being extracted and sold back to civilization.

It has to go from safe to deadly very quickly so that people can more easily connect the dots too.

People were trying to find a way through the artic from the 16th century, 400 years before the first Geiger–Müller tube was made.

I was thinking more along the lines of burying it deep under an inactive seabed. We’d have a hard time now digging things up. We aren’t even able to do simple floor mining well.

I imagine the sea is extremely hard to work in and salt water is very corrosive.

>what symbols you should put on a door to discourage someone in future to opening the door.

Vaguely reminds me a bit of the curses egyptians wrote in the entrances of the Pharaoh's tombs. Basically cursing trespassers for life. This is a realer version of that. Deeply interesting.

That's what I was thinking with the "This is not a place of honor" quote - I mean the curses and promises of deadly diseases, seals, etc didn't keep the archeologists out, they only made them more intrigued. Were they able to read the warnings before entering? Not sure if they had decoded the language yet at that time.

Anyway, place a big red button with a "DO NOT PRESS" sign on it and inevitably someone will press it. I think for nuclear waste the best option is to hide it somewhere nobody will ever find it - miles under the earth, like gold mines, then line the tunnels with explosives and seal it off.

Of course, that wouldn't stop a future generation from accidentally drilling into it by accident while looking for gold.

Into Eternity is my favorite hard sci-fi video so far. It's such a simple and tangible question but so difficult to answer.

The ROI for all the NASA investments

>Over 20 years ago when I started this project in researching bearings, we found the perfect solution: an all ceramic bearing created for use in satellites and spacecraft

>There was only one problem: when I first heard of these bearings, they cost tens of thousands of dollars and were only used in aerospace.

>...they have become more common and are now used in roller blades and fidget spinners and can cost as little as $10

Who studies these evolutions ? Is there a fastest curve to low price ? not too fast to avoid killing incentives for people working on it in the first place but avoiding stalls too.

The Fidget Spinner is the new Tang?

"The Rosetta Stone didn't survive thousands of years in the desert because of some intrinsic cultural value. It survived because it's made of stone. ... The future disagrees about what is and is not important, and why. That's the defining characteristic of the future. No one today cares what the Rosetta Stone actually says, yet it is more important to us (as the key to hieroglyphics) than it was to the society that made it."



(I am a bit amused to realise, after reviewing the Internet Archive snapshots, that this article has changed quite a bit over the years.)

> "The Rosetta Stone didn't survive thousands of years in the desert because of some intrinsic cultural value.

I get the point but the reference is pretty crummy, the rosetta stone is a very young artefact on the scale of long-term preservation (most extant bog bodies are older).

the lazy man's way to make something that will last thousands(or more) years: dry stone masonry. I've built a few walls, they're not going anywhere.


The mechanical stability of a drystone wall is amazing, but the political stability of the border it represents is very, very fragile. It won't fall over but someone might knock it down. That's the problem the Long Now clock might have solved - it's been marketed as a symbol of human persistence. People are being persuaded that it's important. We maintain our symbolic icons. That political stability is what might keep it standing for millenia, unless people forget what it means.

I live close to this 1000 year old temple - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brihadisvara_Temple,_Thanjavur...

You have to walk through a 100 foot gate of granite just to get in. It blows the mind everytime I walk through at the imagination and ambition to build such a thing. And then inside things are even more breathtaking.

It's in daily use for worship and rituals by thousands of people even today. It has seen 8-12 different kingdoms come and go. Not just Hindus but Christians and Muslims administered the area at one time or another.

In addition to Stone what you need is Beauty.

People universally for mysterious reasons recognize Beauty. If it's beautiful it's going to be protected and taken care off. People will happily die to do it.

That's an amazing monument. I live 30s walk from this 1350 year old church - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Peter%27s_Church,_Monkwearm... - it's slightly less ambitious but still a beautiful place, and incredible to think people have been gathering there for that long.

I'm not in the slightest bit religious, but I do have a fascination with all ancient buildings - religious, military, burial etc.

I guess we are lucky in the UK that the place is thick with ancient stuff of all kinds - most of it generally ignored or unknown.

e.g. The stone works on Ben Griam Beg - are the a hill fort, are they for catching deer (both seem rather odd given its location)


Some beautiful structures have survived through constant maintenance of successive civilizations and faith groups. Others have been abandoned to collapse or razed to the ground to punish the people that built it, to clear space to build something new or simply for useful building material. Even the Parthenon, sufficiently revered by successive civilizations to find itself a Greek temple, Roman temple, church and mosque, was redeployed as a gunpowder store with predictable results.

Carving a temple out of solid basalt is a more reliable way of protecting from the elements and all but the most determined humans (e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellora_Caves)

”We maintain our symbolic icons”

…and we destroy those of our enemies (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beeldenstorm, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Destruction_of_Albanian_herita..., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhas_of_Bamyan#2001,_destru...)

If society collapses, there’s a decent risk the ‘owners’ of the long now clock may start to revere it, with the risk of ‘non-owners’, when they (temporarily) become ‘owners’, to destroy it, or take parts of it home for spoils of war.

Alternatively, the ‘owners’ could destroy it themselves for parts.

It's very possible that human culture in a millennia (or a century) will see very little value in our current symbols. Most of the ancient world was dismantled by people that saw little value in the dead relics of a previous age.

Could you get a space vehicle on a trajectory that brings it close to earth only every 1000 - 10000 years?

Add there some mechanism that draws attention and transmits it’s message through radio. Would it be doable to have some primitive electronics that would survive so long?

Seems it would be possible to have it spin on its axis so that it reflects the light from the sun towards Earth in some kind of pulsing flashing manner. That would attract attention. No need for electronics. Of course encoding a message in the flash would be almost impossible, but it could serve as a beacon for a future civilisation to attempt to go up there and retrieve it.

Maybe facet the mirrors so that the reflections would flicker in some something like Morse code. I imagine it would be very difficult to decipher and could only convey a few bytes though.

Maybe just send a sealed capsule capable of re-entry into an orbit that would actually intersect earth in a few hundred thousand years. I doubt we're capable of that sort of precision though..

That's a brilliant idea. I think the electronics part is doable, a radio transmitter is a very simple thing. Some metal alloy with sufficient robustness would probably do the job.

We could even build an analog device that could store the messages just like a music box cylinder.



Also check out Graveyard orbits for decommissioned satellites where they can stay for millions of years and be our monuments from the 21st century.


Space is a pretty hostile environment over those timescales.

Selecting a power source is hard as solar cells almost certainly will not last more than a hundred or two years. Nuclear materials with long half-lives don’t provide much power.

Electronics would just have to be big to avoid radiation damage from being a concern.

> We maintain our symbolic icons.

Until what the symbol represents starts to conflict with political ideology; then, the symbol gets dismantled to cut people off the undesirable heritage.

> > We maintain our symbolic icons.

> Until what the symbol represents starts to conflict with political ideology; then, the symbol gets dismantled to cut people off the undesirable heritage.

Or coopted for use by the new ideology.

It's not possible to protect against destruction by human beings over these timescales, irrespective of whether people remember what the artefact means.

Any such project can only use engineering to provide assurance that the result should last that long _if_ no-one destroys it.

It's not possible to protect against destruction by human beings over these timescales, irrespective of whether people remember what the artefact means.

I think once something is more than a few hundred years old then humans will automatically try to preserve it unless there's a good reason not to (reuse of scarce resources, ideological issues, etc). The challenge is getting something to last long enough for our innate desire to preserve history to kick in.

>I think once something is more than a few hundred years old then humans will automatically try to preserve it unless there's a good reason not to

Would ISIS's destruction of a few World Heritage Sites, museums, art galleries, etc. fall under "ideological issues"


> once something is more than a few hundred years old then humans will automatically try to preserve it unless there's a good reason not to

This is a very recent development that started circa the 19th century in Europe.

Before that no-one really cared.

5000+ year old dry stone houses complete with dry stone furniture:


Edit: And if you want to go that extra step with your dry stone walls, melt them in place:


In the wikipedia article about vitrified forts they say the heat actually weakens the structure.

Yeah - I didn't mean to suggest it was a good step - they just seem stupendously mysterious sites (I grew up fairly near one and was always fascinated by it).

There is a simple explanation for finding vitrified rocks in a fort. Throwing lots of burning oil from the top over a rock of the correct type. They probably found some practical uses for nordic petroleum

Cyclopean masonry probably helps survive through political instability: small drystone is easy to pull down and reuse. If you can't pull it down without enough technology that you don't need to pull it down it'll probably have an easier time.

Snoopy may last that long:

After Stafford and Cernan docked with Charlie Brown and re-entered it, Snoopy's ascent stage was sent on a trajectory past the Moon into a heliocentric orbit by firing its engine to fuel depletion (unlike the subsequent Apollo 11 ascent stage, which was left in lunar orbit to eventually crash; all ascent stages after Apollo 11 were instead intentionally steered into the Moon to obtain readings from seismometers placed on the surface, except for the one on Apollo 13, which did not land but was used as a "life boat" to get the crew back to Earth, and burned up in Earth's atmosphere.) Snoopy's ascent stage orbit was not tracked after 1969, and its current location is unknown. In 2011, a group of amateur astronomers in the UK started a project to search for it. It is the only once-crewed spacecraft still in outer space without a crew.


The only way to build something that lasts 10k years is to build hundreds of things designed to last 10k years, and maybe one or two of them will actually last. That's the only technique that's worked in the past.

Some future archeologist is going to dig up a cell phone.

And it will be a Nokia 3310 that still works and has 30% battery life remaining.

More likely lots of toilet bowls.

The real only way is to maintain what you already have and refuse the urge to raze and rebuild to contemporary taste. Things don't just happen to last, they are actively repaired as needed.

I agree if it has to be hardware, otherwise you just build software.

Software is probably the worst example of something long lasting. You need the entire environment that it's designed to run in for it to be useful at all. Even trying to run software from 30 years ago is only easy where we've intentionally preserved or recreated the tools to run it, eg emulators or virtual machines.

> engineers are building a clock in the Texan desert that will last for 10,000 years

Well, we don't know that. There is no way to know. Selling this to rich guys like Bezos is kind of like selling "after the rapture pet care"...

Well, actually we know that.. It's called engineering.. And no, we can't guarantee that it will work for 10k years as there is too many things that could go wrong, but we can, based on our current knowledge predict that it should last that long based on all we know about engineering and science.

It wont last 10,000 years. Nothing more complicated than scribblings on a tough rock will, and even those will likely be indecipherable.

Seed banks are especially funny/sad. They need to constantly produce seeds, which means constant growth of male/female plants, under human supervision.

No seeds last more than a few years under ideal conditions. Even DNA is unrecoverable/unusable after a few centuries iiirc.

>Even DNA is unrecoverable/unusable after a few centuries iiirc

Only if poorly stored. We have plenty of neanderthal DNA, because we have lots of neanderthal teeth which we drill into to extract this ancient DNA. Properly stored, DNA can last thousands of years, I'd wager indefinitely in the right buffer and in liquid nitrogen.

Seeds of some species can last considerably longer than a few years.

For example Amaranth (pigweed) I've read can lay dormant for something like 40 years and then sprout. And that's outside in native conditions.

Bananas maybe not so much. Not sure.

You maintain a seed bank by constantly buying new seeds, and when you can't buy them, oh I guess they're extinct, time to reintroduce them.

DNA can be used as a stable data storage medium for 10k years. I was actually hoping that was the topic of the article when I clicked it...


This is an admirable project but realistically speaking, six weeks after it's no longer being visited every day some 4channer is going to hike out, break it with a hammer, and then draw dicks on it.

They thought of that, the clock is almost completely made of hammers and dicks.

Serious reply: the only way to permanently protect man and man's works from man is a benevolent but forceful, adaptable in means but rigid in purpose, army of Von Neumann AI killbots.

ETA: and blockchain

Funnily enough, I think the underlying key to longevity of the message is simply the art of the meme. The very message "This is not a place of honor .." Has become endemic in many online cultures, and I've talked to others in academic fields about it many times.

The challenge of fulfilling the nerd snipe problem of coming up with a message that can last 10k years may end up being the way in which this idea sticks around.

The best description of building something that lasts I've seen in recent fiction is Cixin Liu's Death's End [1] where he writes [2] about mankind's museum (a forever tombstone).

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death%27s_End

[2] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=nUkoCwAAQBAJ&pg=PT539&lp...

The forever tombstone was destroyed when the universe was flattened.

Make it disposable. Make it from plastic.

Perhaps our descendants, 10000 years in the future, will be exploring the purpose of The Great Pacific garbage patch.

Assuming some break with history or loss of cultural memory, after 10k years of photodisintegration and absorption into the biosphere, there will be no Garbage Patch.

Our descendants would then be left to wonder at the odd adaptations that life must have made to accommodate complex polymers into their biology, and where those complex polymers might have come from.

Step one I assume is calling it "interim" or "temporary".

If you can somehow come up with a way to keep time using a forest, it would be way easier

You can count rings of a tree you cut down - if you have a system for relating/storing their planting time deltas then you can measure by cutting down a tree and planting new ones.

Edit: Apparently, together with climate data you can determine the year the tree was cut down hundreds of years after the fact [0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dendrochronology

That’s a really interesting idea.

If you plant a tree that lasts for 10,000 years (is there such?), I wonder if you can use its height or the shadow it casts (trunk thickness) to measure time.

Of course, someone would just come and kill it. Unless you can make it undesirable to get close to it.. for example fill it with thousands of snakes and spiders.


As far as we know, there are a few clonal plant colonies that have survived longer than 10K years. No individual plants have quite made it to 10K, but some have made it past 2-3K years.

Scientists recently discovered a bristlecone pine over 5000 years old https://www.livescience.com/29152-oldest-tree-in-world.html

>If you plant a tree that lasts for 10,000 years (is there such?), I wonder if you can use its height or the shadow it casts (trunk thickness) to measure time.


You need to make some sort of sign that indicates the age of the oldest trees in the forest is the clock. And make it impossible or unprofitable to log the forest for wood, maybe by building hundreds of annoying stone pillars at inconvenient spacings

> is there such?

Yes, there are colonies of quaking aspen trees that are estimated to be 80,000 years old: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pando_(tree)

(except human activity is killing it today)

Count time via its genome, such that further generations increase the count?

That’s a good idea but you’d need a visible characteristic.

Because future humans may lose the ability to see the count in the genome .. or just forget it exists and never notice it.

Without giving away any spoilers, this idea was touched on in Cixin Liu's Three Body Problem (later on in trilogy) as a way to memorialize humanity to other civilizations in the future.

Make something out of plastic?

I don't think software developers could survive this test...

It may be designed for 10,000 years, but it will fail at year 3000 because the gears will get clogged from the blood of human sacrifices.

I think "designed to last for 10,000 years" and "moving parts" are largely mutually exclusive.

Thats easy: build it out of 10m thick acid-resistant stainless steel walls.

1. use COBOL.

No memory leaks

We can learn from Nature - atoms, photons, DNA... all last long. Really long.

DNA... A lifeform, more generally a replicator, is actually an interesting idea for something long-lasting. Perhaps our meme pool will survive our gene pool.

Atoms, photons, sure. DNA is dead for all practical purposes after less than 1000 years.

We have neanderthal DNA sequenced. All depends on storage conditions.

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