This is another question about my fantasy version of Pluto. Basically, I’d like the Plutonian’s civilization to be at least 3 million years old, and there are written documents from when their civilization was first founded. Said documents are written on paper in ink, similar to those from the Middle Ages. My question is, could paper documents last for 3 million years?

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    $\begingroup$ That depends on how they are stored and how often they are handled. But my guess is: absolutely not. I've handled paper documents that were 50 years old which fell apart from misery. More e than a couple hundred years is already extraordinary for common books. $\endgroup$
    – Plutian
    Mar 8, 2020 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ During the Middle Ages the use of paper spread from China to the Muslim world to Europe. Before the use of paper spread to Europe, fragile papyrus from Egypt and long lasting & expensive vellum were used. Different types of paper last for different times. I have read books which were over 200 years old and over 400 years old, printed on high grade paper. But that is only one 7,500th as long as you want. You need a long lasting synthetic paper equivalent. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2020 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ A thought: how large is the Plutonian Archive? For comparison, the National Archives (USA) has more than 10 billion pages of text & 12 million maps & architectural drawings. This is from a period dating back to the late 18th century. They say they keep only about 5% of the yearly output of the federal government's yearly records (as being historically important). Fifty million pages per year for three million years is 150 trillion pages of paper just for the records themselves. At best, 1000000 sheets of cheap pulp paper is 100m thick. This archive would be 150 million metres long! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Mar 8, 2020 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ And that's only if they followed the 5% Rule! If they keep everything, the figure is more like an archive 3000000000 m long! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Mar 8, 2020 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ @PatrickT good Idea, but the amber tree is extinct. Of course, on the fictional Pluto there might be a Tree that could provide something similiar $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2020 at 15:48

7 Answers 7


Easy answer: No0

It's certainly true that if you store written documents (paper and ink) in a perfect vacuum, sealed away from changes in temperature and all light (think: "all electromagnetic radiation") suspended such that gravity had a minimal effect on the natural deformities of paper and the changes in density caused by the saturation of ink — all at absolute-zero Kelvin (to theoretically stop all chemical processes and kill all biological entities, like bacteria). And, of course, a power source, maintenance plan, supporting government, and stable planet that would allow this marvelous protective archive to exist. Then, yes, theoretically you could keep the documents for any period of time — and I consider 3M years to be statistically "forever."

But that means your civilization was founded at a level of technology that's better than ours, today. We can't produce those conditions.1

That's important, because our most famous written on paper (I'll include Vellum and Papyrus, but you need to clarify that) historical documents (from the U.S. Declaration of Independence to Britain's Magna Carta all the way to the Nash Papyrus) are at most 2,000–3,000 years old.

Not millions.

And look at their condition. Even given the application of modern technology, these documents are faded and damaged just from their time waiting for the technology to preserve them to arrive.

But frankly, it's unbelievable. It's far more believable that some technologically advanced copy of the originals could live that long (say, a "press plate" — like you'd use on an Offset Press — made out of some form of ultra hardened titanium or maybe Graphene-coated Palladium microalloy glass or some other crazy combination of probably incompatible technologies) that could outlast on orders of magnitude what stone hieroglyphics have compared to paper.

The fundamental problem is, obviously, the enormous time frame. That time frame would encompass considerable warfare2 and geological change3. 3M years is long enough for any 100 square feet to have a measurable chance of being hit by a meteor.

I therefore conclude, no, it's not possible to preserve the original paper. It is, however, possible to preserve official and sanctioned duplicates of said originals. Just think of the national celebrations that would occur on the day that the government revealed the duplicates to the public4 and ceremoniously enacted the final destruction of the originals.

Note, however, that as I wrote this it became increasingly obvious that even the duplicates surviving 3M years is pretty unrealistic. People change. Governments change. Religion changes. Nations change. And there will always be self-absorbed idiots with either too much power or too much stubbornness. The odds of those documents in any form surviving 3M years without petrification following an extinction-level-event are, honestly, unbelievable.

One more point: from time to time over the years I've noticed young writers trying to use unrealistic time periods that don't actually have an effect on their story other than a "wow!" factor. The most common example is Mad Max style apocalypses that last for 500+ years (never mind that 99% of all our technology was invented in the last 150 years). Is there an actual reason that you need a 3-epoch old civilization that wouldn't be more realistically portrayed by a 30,000 year old civilization? 3M years is long enough for a civilization to be godlike from a Asimovian point of view.5 I'm having trouble suspending my disbelief. Sorry.

0I'm still mad as a hornet at Stack Exchange for how it treated Monica and I'm not yet ready for a return. But this question piqued my interest. Maybe if enough questions pique my interest I'll learn to look past SE's behavior and participate regularly again. Believe me, if the Code of Conduct permitted it, I'd be calling SE names. Whee's Jeff Dunham's Walter when you need him? L.Dutch, if you end up editing this out, I'll understand.

1If you think I'm wrong, please be prepared to provide scientific proof meeting the mandate. And remember it must be applied to an entire room, let's say 10 foot cubed.

2Unless your civilization was unbelievably unbelievable. If it's possible for one individual to become angry or insulted and therefore throw a punch, it's not just possible but inevitable that an entire nation will, too.

3I suppose your world (regardless its name) could be a "dead world" in that there's never an earthquake (Plutoquake?) — but that would mean no magnetosphere, which makes things really complicated.

4Because no government in it right mind would do this without half the honking planet witnessing the event — and there would still be some overzealous activist who wants their own way badly enough to point a finger at the now one-epoch-old copy and say, "that ain't real!" And believe you me, that'll happen a whole lot sooner than 1M years.

5Asimov said that a sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic. A 3M-year-old civilization should be a type III Kardashev civilization harnessing or producing energy on the level of whole galaxies. Is some ant-like type-I human colony ship meeting these people? If so, let me leave you with the wisdom of G'Kar.

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    $\begingroup$ @DaikyuMaryu I'm playing devil's advocate on purpose. 10X human lifespan doesn't justify 3M years. "The span of recorded history is roughly 5,000 years," So 50,000 years maybe. But more to the point, even that lifespan doesn't justify 3M. An author I once read about said no story should have anything in it that doesn't have a purpose. What's the purpose of the 3M span? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 8, 2020 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ Oops, the comment I was responding to disappeared. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 8, 2020 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ I’ve got to clarify a few things. For starters, they don’t use magic at all, and secondly, they did have a single empire at one point, but it split into separated after a civil war that occurred eons ago. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2020 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @DaikyuMaryu I'm not saying they use magic either. Asimov's point is that with that level of advancement, it wouldn't matter what you called it - to we humans, it would be magic. The empire splitting is good info, though. You should add that to your question. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 8, 2020 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry. I wanted to improve my comment @JBH $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2020 at 19:32

We can safely assume that the manuscripts in question are supposed to be kept in an inert atmosphere, maybe argon, at constant temperature etc. If they are kept in air then of course they won't resist; after millions of years they will be gone, because oxygen won't stop attacking them until they are no more.

However, no matter how they are kept, if we assume that by "Middle Ages" we are to understand specifically western European Middle Ages, then, with sadness, the answer is ...

Sorry, but no

The question states that the paper and ink are "similar to those from the Middle Ages". While medieval paper is quite often fine acid-free bond paper, which would be quite expensive today, medieval ink is corrosive and will destroy the manuscript all by itself over the centuries and millennia. They would be lucky to survive three thousand years.

In the Middle Ages they used iron gall ink, made from iron salts (usually iron sulfate) and tannic acids from vegetable sources (usually oak galls), dilute with water and with some gum arabic added. In time, the acid will corrode the paper.

Don't get me wrong: medieval iron gall ink is an excellent ink. It is much better than the lampblack ink used in the antiquity, because the acid acts like a mordant and fixes the ink to the paper, and very much better than most modern fountain pen inks, because the ferric tanate produced by the reaction with oxygen when the ink is deposed on paper is not water soluble and is almost impervious to damage by ultraviolet light. Some high-quality blue-black European inks, such as Pelikan 4001 Blue-Black or Lamy Blue-Black, still use formulas which incorporate a small amount of iron gall ink, to make them more resistant against time and mishandling. (I understand that European inks which contain iron gall are not allowed to be sold in the USA. That's a pity.)

The truth is that medieval manuscripts are wonders of human ingenuity. They used high quality paper and high quality ink, and many are still perfectly legible after more (sometimes considerably more) than half a millennium. But they were never intended to endure over geological timespans.

Museums and libraries fight a neverending battle against the deterioration of old manuscripts. As yet, in the 21st century, do not yet have a definitive method of ensuring the preservation of medieval manuscripts. Information is not hard to find; see for example the excellent introduction to ink corrosion on the Iron Gall Ink website maintained by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands.

Maybe some other Middle Ages?

My knowledge about the endurance of the inks used in other Middle Ages is limited, so I won't even try to consider them. In particular, in the Orient they used a form of carbon black ink, usually called India ink (although it is of Chinese origin); it is still widely available and widely used for artistic (and, until recently, engineering) drawings. This kind of ink essentially deposits an inert layer of pure carbon on the writing surface, so it might be more resistant to the ravages of time. But, as I said, I just don't know much about how well do old Chinese manuscripts resist, and whether Chinese librarians are confronted with the same problems as European librarians.

  • $\begingroup$ agreed even modern archival material is hard pressed to last millions of years, medieval materials often didn't last to today. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 9, 2020 at 19:35

Vacuum Sealed

Paper degrades, ink degrades, as long as you're using a base made from organic components, such as dyes for ink or skins for paper, they will eventually crumble to dust. I've read books that are a few hundred years old, personally, and they have some very well preserved copies of ancient scrolls, but even those aren't more than a thousand or so years. You're talking in the neighborhood of a thousand thousands. And that means that you need to preserve these such that they cannot degraded. So there's one simple solution - keep them unexposed to air, and once that happens, they'll be fine. Storing the paper in vacuum sealed containers should work, presumably using magic since you have a fantasy setting in place.


The real world answer to this question is quite simply:

we don't know yet.

Our (global) civilisation only has written records dating back 5500 years or so, that being from Sumer. Gobleki Tepe is far older, and there are engraved symbols there, but we don't know if that's "writing" or not.

Paper was first made in about 100 BC or so and the oldest piece of paper we have dates to about 100 AD.

We can therefore be reasonably certain that good quality rag paper can last 2000 years, and can safely conjecture that well archived paper documents could last some centuries further. Looking ahead more than perhaps ten millennia is, I think, a matter of purely fantastic speculation bordering on narrative necessity.


A civilization native to Pluto would be living in Plato's ecosystem, and not Earth's, and therefore is based on life that is as different as possible from Earth's.

Given this, while the paper and ink could be like the paper and ink from Earth's middle ages, there is nothing in our current state of knowledge which prohibits Pluto's paper and ink—which would naturally be made from different source materials—from having an indefinite duration. The reason for this durability could be a mystery serving as a plot point in your tale.


To answer this question you have to think about what causes deterioration. Deterioration is caused by time, life and chemical reactions mostly.

Existent technology

Storing them in a steril, void enviroment could conserve them indefinetly. This technology currently exists, though that i know of is not used for this particulary propose.

Vacuum tubes and light use this technology to avoid oxidation. Also some types of food are stored in vacuum to prevent their deterioration.



There is also gas storage. Basically the document is stored in a very lethal and inert gas like argon that impedes oxidation and life. The Magna Carta is preserved in this way.

Some foods are also stored in inert non lethal gasses. Like potato chips.



An inert gas is a gas that does not undergo chemical reactions under a set of given conditions.


Fictional technology

If your advanced race is advanced enough they could control time in with tachyons. This is purely theoretically and the existence of tachyons hasn't been proved.

Gravitons: the particle of gravity. Is well now that gravity can slow time. If your race dominnes gravity they could literally stop time around the storage of the documents.

Other dimension: Simply a dimension where time does'nt exists.



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    $\begingroup$ citations and explanations, please. This is not yet an answer, more of a comment $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Mar 8, 2020 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica I fixed my response and added other methods and citations. $\endgroup$
    – jogarcia
    Mar 8, 2020 at 20:20

If your civilization is advanced enough to be able to perform time travel, and they can reach full vacuum (0 particle/km^2) without any electromagnetic waves, then maybe yes.

They could get back in time to steal that paper than bring it into their futuristic world and sealing it into a fully-vacuumed, entirely isolated from EVERYTHING environment.

The problem with this is that time travel is impossible with our theories. Something would be needed to change that.


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