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I'm writing a tale about a possible far future scenario for humanity. Well, not quite the entire humanity. Every part of the story is ultimately connected as it's viewed through the eyes of the members of the same family line and their daily lives so it's a pretty limited perspective based story. Nonetheless, it has 7 different parts to it, the OG character, then 5 generations, 20 generations, 100 generations, 300 generations, 600 generations, and finally 1000 generations in the future. Now to the main point of the question: The connection between them lies in that there is one object that follows them through the entire journey, sort of like an ancient valuable possession of a family tradition.

It starts here and now with the OG character, a regular dude living in a first world country in the early 21st century AD. One day he gets a brilliant idea of sending a time capsule to his descendant one thousand generations down the line. However, after thinking more thorougly about it, he's hit with a barrage of practical problems to solve before he can carry out the plan. The first one is that 1000 generations is an insanely long time. If a generation lasts somewhere between 20 to 30 years, we're talking about 20,000 to 30,000 years into the future. He's going to be almost as ancient to the recipient as the Neanderthals were to him. Even the oldest scriptures literally carved in stone are no more than 200 generations old. There's going to be a lot of printed out photos of his life, as well as a letter, a diary, and a few random everyday objects and tools. Not that the recipient could read the letter and diary due to language evolution but who cares, they're still gonna find it interesting AF. They're going to be sealed in separate bags, then put inside a few layers of boxes then wrapped in plastic. What kind of material should the boxes and bags be made out of in order to ensure they last 30k years, and are the content likely to survive all that time intact instead broken down into dust? For context, the box would not be exposed to the elements and is barely touched by anyone so i wonder how long it can last then.

Lastly, there's going to be a lot of rules and measures to pass down in order to ensure it survives and gets delivered all the way through. But what? What are some good measures to increase the likelihood of having a thousandth descendant at all? And how likely is it to work anyway?

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    $\begingroup$ This looks like a question for... A museum curator! TO THE MUSEUM! $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ You should probably split this into two questions: one about the materials/preservation to ensure a time capsule can even survive, and then a second about how ensure it could be delivered to a thousandth descendant (whatever that comes to be defined as). $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ you want to look into archival storage methods, normal photos or books will be lucky to last a single century. the acids in inks and photochemical will destroy them. want to blow their minds, put a thousand bucks ins a swiss bank with compounding interest. If your lucky they will be rich, if your wrong they still get a mycoburger on great grand pappy. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ Also after a thousand generations either most of humanity are your descendants or you have no descendants. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ To make more clear what @John said: If that OG (Otto von Guericke?) character has any descendants 1000 generations in the future, then almost everybody will be one his descendants. Finding somebody who is not descended from him would the difficult problem. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 20:09

2 Answers 2

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Boxes and Bags Won't Cut It

You might want to look into the Long Now Foundation - their aspirations are ten thousand years, less than half your goal, and they consider conveying any message that temporal distance an undertaking that will require decades of effort.

Most consumer plastics, left to their own devices, begin to depolymerize after a few decades even with no exposure to the elements. Even in a dry environment, archival paper is only rated for a few hundred years. I can't speak to the "tools", but it would depend on what they're made of and what they're exposed to.

You could definitely extend the lifespan of many of the items by sealing them in a vacuum or atmosphere of inert gas, but

  1. You'd need to make sure that at each interval, there was a mechanism to re-seal them in that environment and the user knew what to do, and
  2. You'd need something that could maintain a sealed environment for twenty thousand years, which is generally the kind of thing that involves burial inside a mountain.

This is all aside from the fact that, as commenters have pointed out, after a thousand generations, your descendants are either everyone or no one.

Edit: Additional Examples

  • The Westinghouse Time Capsules - thick corrosion-resistant metal encapsulating glass in which the items were sealed in a nitrogen/argon atmosphere. Only intended for 5000 years, though, and expected to be underwater by that point.
  • KEO - a space probe intended to be launched to return to Earth fifty thousand years later, containing specially-manufactured DVDs and material samples stored inside a multilayered, cosmic-ray-resistant shell. Still doubtful it'll last (if it's ever launched), but definitely the most likely avenue to having something last a thousand generations.
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Museum Specimen Preservation

According to my local nature and science museum, there are several things which can destroy a sample:

  • Light
  • Temperature
  • Relative humidity
  • Physical Forces (mishandling)
  • Fire Damage
  • Water Damage
  • Pest Damage
  • Pollutants
  • Neglect and Disassociation
  • Theft and Vandalism

Longer Timescales

Over longer timescales, though, you would also have to worry about the physical structure of your message degrading. Bits on computer drives will not last, as they will demagnetize. Archival paper will go longer, but will ultimately succumb to other forces.

The only thing that stands a chance is to get a really hard, very stable material, like... Quartzite! It apparently can withstand a lot of mechanical and chemical weathering.

So the capsule and/or its contents should be made of quartzite. This takes care of a lot of the issues noted above! The choice of material here negates a lot of items from the above list. (What rodent is going to want to chew a rock, after all?)

Renewal is Better Than Maintenance

This is going to be tricky but also the best bet for getting individuals down the line to receive the information. Whatever is in there has got to be worth the effort! Like... A family history written in stone! Descendants and maintainers can add to this and it quickly becomes a history of the human race.

That's a universal enough reason to keep this recorded and maintained. Yes, the original content is possibly drowned out, but asking "what's the first thing written in this history?" is likely to never go out of style! Additionally, of something does break, there will be people there to make a new copy. This then takes care of the final items on the museum specimen preservation list.

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  • $\begingroup$ I went to the museum! 😁 $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 15:27

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