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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:

https://www.nature.com/articles/520033a




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