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It’s the year 2568, exactly 500 years after Nuclear war destroyed the two superpowers that started it, the United States and the Soviet Union, along with others such as China, both Koreas, Japan, France, The UK, India, and the Middle East.

What American monuments that weren’t hit directly by the bombs could survive 500 years without any repair?

  • By "weren't hit directly" I mean, assuming no monument was destroyed during the nuclear war, and given the post-apocalyptic conditions, which monuments would stand the test of time?

  • I am interested in man-made landmarks such as Mount Rushmore and Hoover Dam.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please clarify by editing your question: Your title says "landmarks" and you use both "landmarks" and "monuments" in the body of your question. Are we talking about natural landmarks unique to the U.S. (made by Mother Nature, e.g., Devil's Tower) or man-made monuments (Mount Rushmore) or both? $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 10 '18 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ Man made monuments eg Hoover Dam, Statue of Liberty, Hollywood sign $\endgroup$ – Bryan Feb 10 '18 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ Earthquakes will not be your friend... but my personal question is, can you get acid rain as a consequence of a nuclear winter? $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 10 '18 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ There are many man-made monumets erected in the antiquity which are still standing. Some, for example the pyramids, are gigantic. Others, such as Trajan's column or the many triumphal arches, are of a much more reasonable size. Europe has countless buildings and statues which are more than 500 years old. Five hundred years is not such a long time. I would expect very many American man-made structures to be recognizable after five centuries; for example, the interstate freeways. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 10 '18 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly I think the answer is "basically all of them." I think it would be a much more interesting question if you asked what wouldn't survive after 500 years. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Feb 11 '18 at 10:37
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Mount Rushmore

Albeit with some erosion. To imagine the result of 500 years of lack of maintenance, take a picture of the current state of Mount Rushmore and apply a mild Gaussian blur filter.

We are talking about four gigantic faces carved in stone on the side of a mountain in a region that is not densely populated, filled with wildlife, far from industrial complexes (e.g. acid rains are unlikely), and surrounded by woodland, prairies, and badlands.

Interesting part, behind one of the faces there should be a room carved inside the mountain and filled with documents. It could probably be used for something else too.

The rest

Dams

Dams require constant attention. In 500 years there may be but a slight memory of it from some pieces of concrete attached to the sides of the mountain. The water will break through and erode its way across. A lucky dam will crack at the bottom and remain as an archway across a river. I doubt that is likely to happen, but if it does, here is a list of the tallest dams in the US.

A note about gravity dams. As suggested by Andon in the comments, gravity dams may be less prone to failures and thus longer lasting, perhaps even for the timescale of the question.

Skyscrapers

Skyscrapers are marvels of engineering, but they too require constant maintenance. Not much will survive 500 years due to the elements, corrosion of the internal supporting structure, and pillaging of construction materials. At best, the foundations of these tall buildings may remain as a sign of their greatness.

Metal-made constructions

Bridges (Golden Gate), signs (Hollywood sign) or statues (e.g. Liberty Statue). These too require constant maintenance. Today the main threat is due to rusting and corrosion. In 500 years without a stable social structure, these constructions will be the number one source of free high-grade metals. Not much may be left, except perhaps the pedestals.

Other monuments and memorials

A quick look at the rest, taken from a subset of two wikipedia lists: National Monuments, National Memorials

  1. High chance of surviving monuments, given that they already survived a long time on their own without proper maintenance (e.g. ancient precolombian dwellings); also, their being further away from bigger cities may spare them from pillaging or being used a quarries for construction materials; some could likely be buried under some meters of soil brought by rainwater, wind or partially damaged by minor land slides: Agua Fria, Aztec Ruins, Bandelier, Bear Ears, Chimney Rock, Fort Union(not really in working order), Hovenweep, Little Bighorn Battlefield Monument, Navajo, Poverty Point, Tuzigoot, Wupatki, Fort Caroline
  2. Probably still existing, at least in part, but being a good standing castle, or a defensive structure, possibly with thick stone walls stone, it might be used in between as a defensive structure and suffer significant damage; also, not negligible chances of the structure being completely demolished during some skirmish, especially near bigger cities: Castillo de San Marcos, Clinton Castle, Fort Frederica, Fort Matanzas, Fort McHenry, Fort Monroe, Fort Pulaski, Fort Stanwix, Fort Sumfer, Governors Island, Montezuma Castle, Salinas Pueblo, Chamizal, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial,
  3. Probably still existing, but less likely to be accessible due to natural problems, such as earthquakes collapsing caves, or floods placing the grounds underwater; if no such events occur, then the monument should still be there as it has existed already for quite some time without maintenance: Glia Cliff Dwellings, Ocmulgee, Russell Cave
  4. Very unlikely despite being robust and sound structures, mostly due to location, accessibility as quarries, and not easily defendable unless major masonry work is undertaken: Lee Memorial, Federal Hall, Grant's Tomb, Korean War Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, Perry's Victory Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington Monument, War World II Memorial
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    $\begingroup$ Some stles of dams are very long lasting - Without looking it up I want to say gravity dams. There are dams that were built by the Romans and largely unmaintained for hundreds of years. I don't know if these types of dams are common in the US, and know the Hoover Dam is most certainly not one of them. $\endgroup$ – Andon Feb 10 '18 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ The Hoover Dam has a dedication plaque with a picture of stars on it, so persons in the future familiar with the sky can calculate the date when the dam was put up. usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/history/essays/artwork.html. The picture will work up to 14,000 years into the future. $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 11 '18 at 0:01
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    $\begingroup$ Fess up @NofP. You have had your eye on that Hoover Dam plaque for years. $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 11 '18 at 1:35
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    $\begingroup$ More info: Cornalvo Dam, Proserpina Dam, and the Lake Homs dam are all gravity dams built by the Romans and still in use. The Kallanai Dam in India is not currently a gravity dam as it has been modified and updated starting in the early 1800s. They are all from the same time period (1st-3rd century AD). The Almansa Dam in Spain is significantly more modern, built in the 16th century, but that still places it at 500 years old. None of these dams were ever abandoned from what I can tell, but the Hoover dam is an arch-gravity dam and likely could survive for a significant amount of time. $\endgroup$ – Andon Feb 11 '18 at 3:40
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    $\begingroup$ A few references about lifespans of dams: lifespan of storage dams: researchgate.net/publication/… A case study of a Chinese dam: abece.com.br/web/restrito/restrito/Pdf/K4.pdf And another essay on the lifespan of dams insisting that maintenance plays a key role pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8cef/… $\endgroup$ – NofP Feb 11 '18 at 10:10
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I really like the other answer for this question but I just wanted to add a little something to the discussion. The odds of a monument's survivability relies on the massiveness and the maintenance requirements of the structure. Materials also come into play as buildings made out of ferro-concrete are stronger but last less long compared to those that aren't thanks to rust if even a pocket of air exists in its structure (according to this link).

I know you're focusing on the US, but consider the rest of the world as well - the Pyramids of Giza would definitely still be standing (unless our largest bombs were targeting Cairo), despite being thousands of years old already. Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu would also still be standing, as would more massive temples and ruins that were not located in big cities.

Now to more modern constructions: massive baseball fields would probably still be standing, as would important government buildings and others. I know you asked about monuments, but 'regular buildings' would also be around - not looking as nice but still standing. For example, the capitol building in the town of Pawnee, Indiana (from Parks and Rec) would still be standing as I'm assuming it didn't get hit by a nuke. Our recipe for concrete isn't as good as the Roman recipe, but it's not terrible, so let's give ourselves a bit more credit :D

Just wanted to add to the conversation as it seemed pretty 'dam'-heavy in the previous response.

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    $\begingroup$ Good points. The big problem with the question is that 500 years is not very long! $\endgroup$ – Mark Olson Jul 31 at 11:51
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(From the way your question is phrased, I'm assuming you mean "Leave remains that are recognizable as a man-made structure or monument" and not "Remain in working order." If you mean the latter, you way want to re-word your question.)

The answer is that a great many things would survive. Five hundred years is not a long time, really -- just think how much has survived 500 years, after all nearly every medieval structure is at least 500 years old, and many of them have not been maintained: Castles, Roman roads, forts, tunnels, pueblos, quarries, bridges, aqueducts, walls, statues, churches -- there are vast numbers of things that survive.

The two great enemies of human structures are glaciation (and 500 years is probably too short a time for the Earth to tip into the next ice age) and people. People can quickly destroy things by rebuilding right in the same spot and using the old structure's materials.

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