A lot of what we know of the first civilisation in Japan (the Jōmon period, ca. 12000 BC – 300 BC) comes from the discovery and archaeological analysis of objects that are witnesses of the past: shards of pottery. To see just how much you can learn from simple pottery shards, just read this extract from a post on JREF about the Jōmon pottery:
Some villages had […] storage pits supplemented by large decorated storage vessels. Pottery vessels in mountain sites were shaped for specific uses. The use of various symbolic motifs reflected the contact with the supernatural: female figures and stone phalli appeared; lamps, incense burners, and clay drums were used in ceremonies.
Shape, motifs and contents of pottery, figurines and other such objects give us crucial information about history. In part because of the used material (clay) is very durable and the condition in which they
were stored (buried underground), relatively large amounts of pottery remained intact. In other regions as well, things like these contributed greatly to the history books, not surprisingly because several societies used to document or depict things varying from fighting scenes to fertility symbols on the storage vessels and other pottery that has been found, those cultures being pre-literate when the pottery was made.
When writing systems and the printing press were invented, it became possible for writers to document their observations (sometimes true to reality, other times not so much) in books or similar things. (For example, a lot of what we know about my small and unknown country, which is Belgium during the glory days of the Roman Empire is based on emperor Caesar’s De Bello Gallico in which he describes how those unruly “Belgae” in the North caused him so much trouble.) But since the advent of the printing press, tangible objects as souvenirs from years back have lost significance.
A relatively new phenomenon that could replace the pottery from millennia ago are time capsules. These nifty things are containers in which any item you want can be stored, for people of the future’s viewing pleasure—and maybe more. Time capsules should be air and watertight, so if you’re lucky enough to find one, you will enjoy the privilege of admiring a tangible object from the past in good state! This is even better than just a story, picture or a video of something of the past, right? Time capsules can be simple, small can-shaped, or they can look like this one in Japan:
That Japanese time capsule, a joint effort by Panasonic Corporation and The Mainichi Newspapers, looks quite tough, and it should be, because this biggie buried in 1970 is intended to be opened no less than 5000 years later! To ensure the preservation of its contents, it is reopened every 100 years so those who are responsible for maintaining it can apply the latest conservation techniques.
Thinking about this topic made me realise, I could make someone happy in the future by making my own capsule! All I’d have to do is try to find a durable container and put some objects which I’d like someone from the future to see, and decide after how many years it can be opened. I hope to find a time capsule myself one day, or at least witness the opening of one.