Make a Time Capsule

Archaeologists help us develop an idea of how humans lived in the past, by studying objects which are left behind. Sometimes our theories are supported by written historic sources, and sometimes we only have the objects themselves to act as clues to the past.

Imagine the year is 3020 and an archaeologist discovers a collection of your belongings. How easy do you think it would be to build up an idea of who you are as a person, and how you lived your life? Do you think it would be possible to paint an accurate picture of what happened in the year 2020?

For this week’s young archaeologist session, I thought it would be fun to build a time capsule, and consider how the objects would answer these questions. I invite you to do the same, and we can leave our own clues for the future historians! Bury your time capsule outside, or hide it in your house in the back of a cupboard or in the attic. You can leave it to be discovered by somebody else in years to come, or you can decide to reopen it in 5, 10 or even 20 years’ time.

Find and choose a container for your time capsule, remember this could act as an artefact itself in the future! Think about where you may hide your capsule and what material it is made from. How this will affect the longevity of your carefully chosen objects? What would last longer buried in the ground – a metal tin or a cardboard box?

Choose 10-15 objects to put in your time capsule. Try and imagine the kind of questions that might be asked when the capsule is found in the future, and how you can answer these with your clues. Below is what I have chosen, and why.

A selection of items for a time capsule

  1. Work ID badges and a letter of appointment.

This will show what I did as a job and where I worked. Crucially, it will help put a name to the owner of the objects. The letter is also dated, which will help place an age on my objects.

A five pound note, a pound coin and a receipt

  1. Money and a shopping receipt.

Something which changes regularly is currency – I chose a £5 note and a £1 coin because both have changed a lot since I was a teenager. Will this survive as an example of the newly introduced polymer/plastic bank notes in the UK?

The shopping receipt will show what we were eating in the year 2020, and how much everyday items cost at the shops.

Union Jack bunting, blue gloves, hand santizer and a New Home card

  1. Items of significance to the year.

I chose Union Jack Bunting, to show how we celebrated the anniversary of VE Day by decorating our houses. This is the only reference to this in my time capsule though. I wonder if the flag, and the date on my letter would be enough clues for somebody to make this connection?

I also chose plastic gloves and hand sanitiser to represent how careful we had to be about keeping our hands clean in the year 2020. Will these become immediately recognised as a symbol of the times?

  1. Happy new home card

I moved into my new house this year, the inside of this card has a really nice message from my grandma. I also chose this card because of the rainbow on the front. Will it be remembered how our homes were decorated with rainbows?

  1. A photo of me and my friends

I thought it would be exciting for whoever found my capsule to be able to put a face to my name, and look at how we dressed. It’s always fun to look at photos of your parents when they were young and have a laugh at their hairstyles or fashion choices. I put the eyeliner in as a clue to which of the three girls is me.

  1. Eco-friendly household items

I hope that the metal straws, paper sandwich bags and solid shampoo would demonstrated that this was the decade where we started to think much more carefully about the quantity of single use plastics in our homes, and how we tried to act more responsibly.

Craft materials

  1. Hobbies

I also included a homemade badger, to represent my past time of needle felting. My volunteer pass and my museum membership cards show what I like to do in my spare time.

What would you put in a 2020 time capsule? When you have chosen your items think of all the different ways the objects might be understood in 10, 100 or 1000 years’ time. Do you want to write a letter to explain the less obvious objects – think of it like explaining a fidget spinner to an alien! Let me know your ideas for a capsule and where you intend to hide it around your home.