Sunday, September 12, 2010

Future Archeologists

Recently, I read about Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where the government is creating a facility to store nuclear waste. They want it to safely house this waste for 10,000 years and this has brought up some extremely interesting issues, even beyond the storage of nuclear waste.

The most interesting, to me, is how to tell the people we will be in 5,000 (or even 2,000) years, what we’ve done and why. Consider how much we know about the Ancient Greeks, Mayans, or Egyptians. While we know a great deal more than we used to, a lot of what we have are theories and there are plenty of misconceptions. We explore their landfills, their cemeteries, their sacred places, and if there’s a warning that says “Go no farther?” We call a camera crew.

Language, culture and humans in general, are still evolving. We tend to think of ourselves as the end of a long evolutionary line, but assuming we make it another 2,000 years, 5,000 years, 10,000 years, we’ll be a blip on the radar. Just another past era. We think the knowledge we’ve gathered will live on forever, but books don’t last forever. And as the way we store data changes, even data is lost. Think of all the old computer games that only live on as we remember them, the programs that have faded away. And that’s in a very short time of our evolution. The Library of Alexandria was a center for the knowledge amassed by our ancient ancestors, the Smithsonian of their age. It certainly doesn’t exist now. It, and all the knowledge it contained, is gone.

Language will grow and change, what we speak now will be the languages of scholars and will it even be understood? Will it be understood in time to keep someone from drilling in a site made to store nuclear waste? Will the symbols and signs that we find so recognizable today still mean “biohazard,” “radiation,” or even “danger?”

In 2,000 years we will be to future humans what the ancient civilizations are to us. Future archeologists will search our graveyards for some understanding of how we lived and what we went through. They’ll pick through our landfills to find out what we made and what sort of technology we used. They will walk in our sacred places, and maybe they will speak to them and maybe they will be only an interesting puzzle. And if there’s a sign that says “Go no further,” what will they do?

Links to the articles I’ve been reading:

Buried But Not Forgotten?

Excerpts from Expert "Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant"

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