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The Apkallu Initiative: A Minilithic Artefact for Rebooting Human Civilization in the Event of Global Cataclysm

Kelvin Long is a familiar face on Centauri Dreams, the author of several previous articles here and many publications in the field of interstellar studies. The creator of Project Icarus, the re-design of the Project Daedalus starship of the 1970s, Long was a co-founder of Icarus Interstellar and went on to head the Initiative for Interstellar Studies. He also served as editor of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society during a critical period in the journal’s history, and authored Deep Space Propulsion: A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight (Springer, 2011). Today he turns his thoughts to catastrophe, and the question of what would happen to human civilization if it were reduced to a small remnant. Could we preserve the most significant treasures of our science, our culture, in the face of a devastated Earth? Exploring these ideas takes us deep into the past before turning toward what Kelvin sees as a possible solution.

by Kelvin F Long

The year is 2050. Earth is a thriving metropolis with a population exceeding 9 billion. Progress has been made in harmonising social-cultural tensions around the world and nation state war is now an infrequent event. A young child of the future steps out into the bright sunshine of a gorgeous new morning. Her day is still ahead of her as she out stretches her arms and smiles at the mellifluous call of the singing birds. But then looking up, she notices something in the distance, a long streak across the sky that is moving rapidly, and seems to be descending towards the ground. It disappears behind the horizon, and shortly later a blinding flash engulfs the world. The girl looks on stunned, eyes struggling against the light, to see the gradual build-up of a mushroom cloud that starts to reach high into the atmosphere. The impact event was hundreds of miles away, yet soon it engulfs the world in a global climate change and sends Tsunamis sweeping over coastal cities destroying all in the path. In response to oceanic earthquakes, the water becomes so big, that it pushes across the flat land masses; unrelenting mega white horses to a trampled poppy field below. One day, this will form into wedge shaped chevron deposits hundreds of feet high, composed of ocean floor micro-fossils. Within days of the event the girl will learn that billions of people are wiped out as the human civilization draws to a rapid stagnation. All infrastructure and governments are gone, and only small pockets of communities around the world survive, numbering thousands at best. She was one of the lucky ones, her small community of one hundred people survived just barely on their high mountain top position. This is fortunate for a girl named Hope.


The future is uncertain. Whilst it is important to emphasise the positive reasons for the exploration of Earth and space, it is also important not to be in denial about the risks that really face us; for they are not insignificant. They are many and varied in type. From the potential for nation state warfare, to disease pandemics, to global climate change, to risks from above such as impact events by asteroids or comets or even the possibility alien invasion. The sure way to guarantee our survival is to follow the lead of Elon Musk and to make the human race an interplanetary species; and indeed to go further with an interstellar species. But until we have reached this point we are vulnerable. The proposal made in his article is not an alternative to the current plans for the colonization of space and the continued building up of infrastructure, but it is a complimentary pathway to increase the probability of human survival into the coming centuries. In particular, it should be taken on board that the assumptions of this project is that a possible future exists where rocket technology no longer even exists as a worst case survival scenario.

The Apkallu initiative is a proposed project to help reboot human civilization, on the assumption that some small pockets of human communities survive around the world during a global cataclysm, but all the remnants of our industrialised and developed civilization are destroyed. This includes our cities, our farms, our libraries, our infrastructure, and our transport networks; in essence the human race is thrown back to being a hunter-gatherer species and must begin again. It is named after the Sumerian sages who are said to have helped humankind establish civilization and culture and giving us the gifts of a moral code, mathematics, architecture, agriculture and all ways necessary to teach us how to become civilized. The Sumerian civilization is one of the first to appear in recorded history, which included the invention of its own writing form called Cuneiform. Before we discuss what the Apkallu initiative actually is, it is worth reminding ourselves of some essential context.

Impact Threats and Other Risks to Human Survival

We know that objects have impacted the Earth throughout its history and continue to do so today. Approximately 66 million years ago, it is believed that an impact event resulted in the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) extinction. This led to devastation in the global environment and a prolonged winter which affected the photosynthesis of plants and plankton life. It also resulted in the destruction of a plethora of terrestrial organisms, including mammals, birds, insects and most famously the dinosaurs. The object, an asteroid or comet, was 10-15 km in diameter with a likely impact velocity of around 20 km/s and an associated kinetic energy of impact of around 30,000 – 1000,000 Gtons TNT equivalent, depending on the assumptions. It left an impact crater in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and likely created 300 feet high Tsunami’s over an impact zone of around 3,000 miles.

Another example is the Arizona Meteor crater, which was the result of a Nickel-Iron object around 50 m in size impacting the Earth 50,000 years ago. With impact velocities ranging from 2.8 – 20 km/s this would have impacted with an associated kinetic energy of 10.7 – 26.2 Mtons TNT equivalent. Today, a crater remains of the impact event, 1.2 km in diameter and over 550 feet deep.

In 1908 a comet is believed to have impacted eastern Siberia, causing a flattening of a forest 2,000 square km in size. Since no impact crater was found, it is believed that the object disintegrated at an altitude of 5 – 10 km above the ground. The estimated energy of the air burst explosion was 10 – 15 Mtons TNT equivalent; depending on the assumptions one makes.

In July 1994 a comet split into 21 fragments ranging in size up to 2 km, and impacted the upper atmosphere of Jupiter with an impact velocity of around 60 km/s. The total energy of these impacts was around 6,000 Gtons TNT equivalent creating dark red spots with some being 12,000 km in size. Had this comet impacted the Earth, it would have posed a major threat to human existence.

During late 2017 we observed the close flyby pass of an asteroid of interstellar origins named ‘Oumuamua. Much of the nature of this objects remains uncharacterised, but some sensible estimates of the maximum potential impact energy suggest 4.2 – 46.9 Gtons TNT equivalent, had it impacted the Earth.

Then in April this year that an object named Asteroid 2018 GE3 passed closed to Earth and was spotted 119,500 miles away, which is closer than the Moon, which orbits at an average distance of 238,900 miles. The object was first observed by the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey project based at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. It was first observed a mere 21 hours before the closest approach to the Earth. The object was estimated to be at least 150 – 360 ft in diameter.

How many more are out there waiting for us? No doubt some will argue that the impact risks are statistically small and we should not be concerned about them. We know there are many asteroids in our own Solar System, varying in size from 1 m up to 1,000 km. Approximately 16,000 objects have been found near Earth, but this is a small fraction of the estimated total that is out there, which varies between 1 – 2 million. Statistically, this presents a threat to human existence and life as we know it. Indeed, it is the belief of this author that impact events which can lead to global devastation of the human population may be as frequent as 1/1,000 – 1/10,000 years.

In addition to impact risks there are many other threats to human existence. This may include the implications of magnetic field reversal. Such an event occurred 41,400 years ago during the last ice age, called the Laschamp event. It caused a magnetic field reversal leading to a drop in its strength. This resulted in more cosmic rays reaching the Earth and an increased production of the isotopes Beryllium 10 and Carbon 14.

There are also the risk of enhanced solar activity such as through large scale solar flares, or the possibility of the Sun entering unstable periods in its evolution for which are current models of stellar-structure are not aware. This could be due to the passage of our Sun through the spiral density arms of the galaxy. There are the risks of nation state war or even global thermonuclear war that could drive us towards extinction, either through direct destruction or through altering the climate. There are the risks of human disease pandemic, which surely must become more probable in an increasing global population. There are the risks of human destruction of elements of the biosphere, such as pollutions of the oceans, soils, deforestation or polluting of the atmosphere. There are the risks that microbes could be introduced into our biosphere from an alien planet that is infectious to our biodiversity.

Then there is the actual risk of alien invasion, from a species set on conquering other lower species or seeking resource acquisition no matter the costs. It may be assessed that some of these are low probability. However, the fact that there are so many risks to the future survival of humankind should be a concern, and it is vital that we take a proactive approach to adaptability and survival, instead of a reactive one when such events occur.

Assumptions of a hypothetical Near-Human Extinction

Imagine a situation where human kind is nearly wiped out by some global cataclysm. This could be an impact event or one of the other risks highlighted earlier. In a worst case scenario, but one where some humans survive, we might make the following assumptions:

  • 1. All infrastructure is destroyed, to include buildings, power utilities, city plumbing, dams, transport networks, agriculture and farming, huge portions of the plant and animal kingdom.
  • 2. All information sources are destroyed, to include all the world libraries, computers and electronic memory. It is possible that some books will be discovered over time as communities explore the rubble remaining from the metropolis. Books would become precious beyond their current value.
  • 3. The global climate is in turmoil and hostile, but with isolated regions of stability such that with determination survival is possible.
  • 4. The geological, climatic, oceanic activity and effects of the cataclysm event, within weeks, months or years will gradually return towards some level of stable Earth.
  • 5. Small pockets of humans survive around the Earth, perhaps 10s to 100s each but with the total not exceeding thousands.

Given this scenario, we can note that the surviving generation will remember the world as it was before. They will use this knowledge to teach their children. At this point knowledge is based upon direct memory. Those children will then grow up, with their parents dying off, and they will remember what their parents taught them and some of those children may even have some memories of the world before. But for the most part we are dealing here with recent history and part mythology. The grandchildren will also be born and grow up, but they will have no direct memory of the world the way it was before. At this point we are dealing with history and mythology. Within the third or fourth generation there is a risk that all knowledge will be lost, and especially if that knowledge is not captured and written down. All received knowledge then becomes both mythology and fantasy.

There are solutions to this practiced by the Native North Americans for example, which is to communicate stories verbally and also use this to impart wisdom, and those stories are accompanied by rituals. However, one cannot believe that such a method of communication does not contain significant information error propagation with each successive generation, compared to the original version.

The History of Humans on Planet Earth

In the event of a global cataclysm, assuming small pockets of human communities survive, but the majority of human civilization and associated technological infrastructure is destroyed, how can we ensure a chance at rebooting human knowledge? Indeed, is it possible that this has in fact occurred in the recent past and this is a part reason for the many Megalithic structures on Earth?

Until recently, Sumer was the earliest known civilization in the historical Mesopotamia, and is located in modern Iraq. It dates back to 3,000 B.C and was likely settled around 4,000-5,500 B.C by proto-Euphrateans or Ubaidians. The people from this era are credited for many great inventions and discoveries which led to the advance of their society. This includes in mathematics, geometry, agriculture, architecture, economics and law to name a few. One of the most famous objects discovered from this period is the Code of Hammurabi, a 2.25 m tall stone wall consisting of 282 laws, such as “an eye for an eye” and is the first legal system from the Old Babylonian period.

The Code of Hammurabi, created 1750 B.C, currently housed at the Louvre, Paris (image credit: K. F. Long)

It is important to note that in the Babylonian creation mythologies, which were written in Cuneiform, there are around a thousand lines of text on seven clay tables. The focus of this text is the creation of humankind for the service of the gods. These texts are called the Enûma Eliš, and arguably they have a clear lineage to the Judeo-Christian Bible. The Cuneiform script was scribed, using a wedge-shaped marker onto a wet clay tablet and also cylinder seals. These are small round objects typically an inch in length engraved with information. Once dried the inscription was permanent. The information preserved on tablets and seals was Cuneiform text but also contained figurative scenes or descriptions of events or objects. Such objects are breathtaking in their clarity, gorgeous in their artistic nature, and contain a wealth of information about the society, its rituals, values, business, science and technology.

Photographs of Sumerian Cylinder Seals from the Private Collection of the Author (image credit: K. F. Long)

The Holy Bible records a flood story that engulfed all of planet Earth. This is recorded in Genesis chapters 6 – 9, and the flood seems to last for around one hundred and fifty days. Other cultures have recorded similar stories. For example the Sumerian tale of Ziusudra and the Atra-Hasis also describes a global flood story that is similar to that told in Genesis. In the Sumerian story the flood lasts for seven days. An account is also told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is more similar to the Biblical story. Also, the Hindu mythology tells of a great flood in the Satapatha Brahmana. It is very easy to dismiss the possibility of a global flood as pure mythology, but the occurrence of a similar story in so many cultures around the world is at least suggestive that it may be a memory of an actual event which many today are regarding as mythology. Indeed, science may be catching up with the past.

Geologists and climatologists study a period in Earth’s history called the Younger Dryas, which occurred 12,900 to 11,700 years ago and saw a return to glacial conditions which temporarily reversed the gradual climatic warming after the last glacial maximum which began receding around 20,000 years ago. It led to many catastrophic effects including the decline of the Clovis culture in North America and the extinction of many megafauna which included the Mammoths; the last of which survived into the Holocene around 4,500 years ago in Africa, Europe, Asia and North America.

Illustration of the Younger Dryas period

In recent years, evidence is emerging that the Younger Dryas period may have been caused by a cometary impact event on the North American ice sheet, around 12,900 years ago. The evidence for his includes the discovery of a 10 million ton deposit of impact spherules across four continents, and the discovery of a Nano-diamond rich layer. In addition, analysis of underground soils indicates massive wildfire and abrupt ecosystem disruption on California’s Northern Channel Islands. Scientists have also discovered very high temperature impact melt products as evidence for an air burst explosion. All of this is dated to around 12,900 years ago, at the onset of the Younger Dryas. If this is proven to be correct, then a global cataclysm may indeed have occurred in our recent past. Speculating, if any advanced civilizations existed on Earth prior to this date, they may have been wiped out by this cataclysm forcing civilization to start from the beginning again.

At some point in our past we moved from a hunter-gatherer species to an agricultural-farming one, where we embraced the domestication of animals and crops. This is marked by a period called the Neolithic, and occurred around 10,200 years ago. It is considered to be the last period of the stone age and commenced the beginning of the Neolithic revolution. It ended with the emergence of the Copper and Bronze and Iron ages and our new abilities to use metals. It is remarkable that we have apparently exploded technologically and social-culturally over the last 10,000 years or so to the state where we have computers, cars, aeroplanes and communication satellites. What was it that propelled us forward over such a short space of time? Why had we not achieved this level of maturity previously? Was it the formation of a critical population density? Was it global climatic conditions? What is our tribal nature and inability to get organized? What it some other threats to our existence?

Homo sapiens in our modern form may be several hundred thousand years old. Paleolithic cave art certainly goes back to 40,000 years but may be 60,000 years if we include what is currently being claimed to be art from Neanderthal man. Evidence from the out of Africa hypothesis puts homo sapiens at around 130,000 – 180,000 years old. But there are alternative versions which claim populations emerging out of Africa as early as 350,000 years ago. Evidence for older findings includes discoveries of anatomically modern human skull fossils at Jebel Irhour in Morocco (315,000 years) and Middle Awash in Ethiopia (160,000 years). The history of human evolution is far from settled and ‘thinking man’ may be much older than we realised.

Ancient Megaliths

A story from ancient Sumeria is that of an amphibious being called Oannes (also known as Adapa) who apparently taught humankind wisdom. The story was told by Berossus in 290B.C, a Chaldean Priest in Babylon. Berossus described Oannes as having the body of a fish but underneath the figure of a man. He is said to dwell in the Persian Gulf, rising out of the waters in day time and furnishing humankind in the instruction of writing, arts and other subjects. Here are the words of Berossus:

“At first they led a somewhat wretched existence and lived without rule after the manner of beasts. But, in the first year appeared an animal endowed with human reason, named Oannes, who rose from out of the Erythian Sea, at the point where it borders Babylonia. He had the whole body of a fish, but above his fish’s head he had another head which was that of a man, and human feet emerged from beneath his fish’s tail. He had a human voice, and an image of him is preserved unto this day. He passed the day in the midst of men without taking food; he taught them the use of letters, sciences and arts of all kinds. He taught them to construct cities, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect the fruits; in short he instructed them in everything which could tend to soften human manners and humanize their laws. From that time nothing material has been added by way of improvement to his instructions. And when the sun set, this being Oannes, retired again into the sea, for he was amphibious. After this there appeared other animals like Oannes.“

Whether this is pure fiction or has any resemblance to historical events does not matter, but it is this story that has given rise to the idea of building what this author is calling a ‘minilithic artefact’ under the Apkallu Initiative as will be discussed further below. As an aside it is worth noting that in his book Intelligent Life in the Universe, written with L. S. Shklovskii (Pan Books, 1977), the astronomer Carl Sagan opened a discussion on the Sumerian civilization with “I came upon a legend which more nearly fulfils some of our criteria for a genuine contact myth”.

On planet Earth we know that species rise up and fall and suffer extinction. The fossil record has shown this for many a species. There are also arguments that Homo Sapiens are not the only occurrence of intelligence on Planet Earth (see for example the recent book Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith’ on the Octopus, William Collins, 2016). Why then is it not possible, in the last million years, that an earlier species of man, or other life form on Earth, could have evolved to similar levels of intelligence to that which we possess today, to include a technological level similar in extent? Such a people would predate modern recorded history, and it is at least plausible that some memory of them could be preserved in the creation mythologies of our various ancient cultures.

Many ancient Megalithic structures have been found by archaeologists around the world. This includes for example the Great Pyramid and the Great Sphinx in Giza (4,500 years old), Tiwanaku and Pumapunku in West Bolivia (3,500 years old), Stonehenge in England (5,000 years old), Machu Picchu in Peru (550 years old) to name a few. However, recently our linear understanding of human evolution from a hunter-gatherer species to an agricultural-farming one has been placed under scrutiny, by the discovery in 1996 of Gӧbekli Tepe, a site in the South eastern Anatolia region of Turkey, which may date back to 12,000 years old. The site demonstrates a superior knowledge of construction techniques, geometry and other disciplines and to enable its construction would have required a food surplus to exist – before the arrival of the Neolithic revolution. In addition, it is arguable that to get to a point where you can construct something like Gӧbekli Tepe would take thousands of years of advancement of knowledge in itself. This might suggest that the builders were 15,000 – 20,000 years old.

A potentially even older site has also been found in West Java, called Gunung Padang, which was discovered in 1914. It may be the largest megalithic site in South Eastern Asia. Radiocarbon dating puts the site at several different eras spanning 6,500 – 20,000 years ago, although the dating claims are controversial among archaeologist in Indonesia. A large structure has also been discovered beneath the surface some 15 m down and includes large chambers. This discovery, and that of Gӧbekli Tepe, is telling us that our linear understanding of history is in need of revision.

Interglacial Periods in Earth’s History

Given the existence of Gӧbekli Tepe and Gunung Padang, the idea that an earlier intelligent and advanced civilization existing on Earth is not so implausible. However, were there opportunities in Earth’s history for this to occur? An examination of climatic conditions would seem to suggest so.

During the history of Earth there have been five major ice ages, and we are currently in the Quaternary Ice Age at this time, which spans from 2.59 million years ago. Within the ice ages are sub-periods known as glacial and interglacial periods.

Recent measurements of the relative Oxygen isotope ratio in Antarctica and Greenland show the periods of glacial and interglacial periods throughout history over the last few hundred thousand years. This is a measurement of the ratio of the abundance of Oxygen with atomic mass 18 to the abundance of Oxygen with atomic mass 16 present in ice core samples, 18O/16O, where 16O is the most abundant of the naturally occurring isotopes. Ocean water is mostly comprised of H216O, in addition to smaller amounts of HD16O and H218O. The Oxygen isotope ratio is a measure of the degree to which precipitation due to water vapour condensation during warm to cold air transition, removes H218O to leave more H216O rich water vapour. This distillation process leads to any precipitation having a lower 18O/16O ratio during temperature drops. This therefore provides a reliable record of ancient water temperature changes in glacial ice cores, where temperatures much cooler than present corresponds to a period of glaciation and where temperatures much warmer than today represents an interglacial period. The Oxygen isotope ratios are therefore used as a proxy for temperature changes by climate scientists.

The Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water (SSMOW) has a ratio of 18O/16O = 2005.2×10-6, so any changes in ice core samples will be relative to this number. The quantity that is being measured, δ18O, is a relative ratio calculated as in the units of % parts per thousand or per mil. The change in the oxygen ratio is then attributed to changes in temperature alone, assuming that the effects of salinity and ice volume are negligible. An increase of around 0.22% is then defined to be equivalent to a cooing of 1˚C.

There are differences in the value of δ between the different ocean temperatures where any moisture had evaporated at the final place of precipitation. As a result the value has to be calibrated such that there are differences between say Greenland and Antarctica. This does result in some differences in the proxy temperature data based on ice core analysis, and Greenland seems to stand out, such as indicating a more dramatic Younger Dryas period (11,600 – 12,900) than other data.

An analysis of this data shows that the climate has varied cyclically throughout its history and is manifest of natural climate change. In particular what emerges out of the data are some interesting lessons about the recent history of planet Earth. Data shows the rapid oscillations of the climate temperature from the average temperature of today, indicative of glacial and interglacial periods. In particular, the data shows that during the Holocene period, beginning approximately 11,700 years before present, the temperature varied between 2-4 ˚C.

It is reasonable to assume that human civilizations under development will do better when the climate is kinder. This means that the warmer it is the better civilisations will do, and the colder it is, the harder the struggles. In particular we can expect that during the conditions of a colder climate that agricultural farming will suffer, and so there will be less food to go around, which will affect both lifespan and population expansion. To support this it is worth noting that the current epoch, the last 10,000 years has been one of the longest interglacial period for at least the last quarter of a million years and it is reasonable to therefore assume that this is one of the factors which has allowed human development from the emergence of the Neolithic period coming out of the last ice age.

The data also shows that there was a large global warming period known as the Eemian around 115,000 – 130,000 years ago. The average global temperatures were around 22 – 24 ˚C, compared to today where the average is around 14 ˚C. Forests grew as far north as the Arctic circle at 71˚ latitude and North Cape in Norway Oulu in Finland. For comparison North Cape today is now a tundra, where the physical growth of plants is limited to the low temperatures and small growing seasons. Given that homo sapiens may have been here since around 300,000 years ago, this seems like a major opportunity for the development of human society from a people of hunter gatherers to one of agricultural developers and the development of a civil society.

There have been other interglacial periods that have resulted in global temperatures being either equivalent or above the average today, and the data shows temperature spikes of periods at around 200,000 years, 220,000 years, 240,000 years, 330,000 years and 410,000 years. Each of these interglacial periods will typically last at least 10,000 years.

Temperature Proxy Data Showing Opportunities for the Rise of Advanced Civilization in Recent Prehistory

The Apkallu Initiative

It is fully admitted that much of the above contains speculation, but until we have a firmer grasp of history it would be unwise to rule such possibilities out. We turn our attention then to the future and solving the problem of how to preserve human knowledge in the event of a global cataclysm such that humankind can restart again so that within centuries we mature back to similar levels of today’s technological advancement. Ultimately this is a statistical problem, in that by reducing the time of each cycle for maturing to technological capability, one improves the probability of survival. It is sensible to think of this concept as a civilization accelerator.

The Apkallu Initiative is therefore a proposal to construct a minilithic artefact (analogous to Megalithic artefacts) that can survive for a time duration exceeding 100,000 years. This duration is chosen for three principal reasons:

  • 1. The recent ice core records suggest that within that time period there may be several opportunities (~4) where the climatic conditions are sufficiently supportive for human existence to facilitate growth beyond basic survival.
  • 2. It approximately corresponds to four processional cycles of the Earth around the equinoxes, which typically last 25,920 years. We note that many of the ancient Megaliths seem to have been preoccupied with the measurement of the equinoxes; which may relate to lost memory of previous cataclysms.
  • 3. It is difficult to design for an artefact that can survive longer than this, although desirable.

The artefact would be a form of archaeological-architectural device from the standpoint of future humans who uncover it. The device would be replicated perhaps 1,000 times and distributed around the seven continents of the Earth. Ideally, some could also be placed in space, on the Moon or Mars. The idea is that any future human surviving a global cataclysm that finds this artefact and studies it sufficiently, it will give them the knowledge they need to rapidly advance human civilization at an accelerated rate.

Painting illustrating future man finding the archaeological artefact (credit: K. F. Long)

The artefact would be a form of long distance communication. We have of course attempted message plaques in the past such as the Voyager Golden Record and the Pioneer Plaque. Indeed, the Code of Hammurabi from the Sumerian civilization is a form of minilithic artefact, but just specific to moral and legal codes. Another example would have been the tablets for the Biblical Ten Commandments.

There is a question of what materials to construct the artefact from. Plastics and metals will likely degrade over thousands of years. Electronic memory is not useful if it is subject to flip switching and also requires a computer interface to read it. It therefore seems sensible to construct the artefact out of stone; perhaps in a similar manner to the Sumerian Cuneiform on wet clay tablets. One of the options may be Diorite. It would perhaps be useful to depict both logograms, with syllabic and alphabetic elements, as well as phonetics and even determinatives to create appropriate semantic descriptions.

There is a question of what information should the artefact contain. It should contain the foundation knowledge of human civilization. This is a subjective decision. One example we might take lessons from for example was the Trivium (logic, grammar, rhetoric) and the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy) of the classical world. Both were considered preparation work before delving into the study of philosophy and theology. In addition to these, the artefact might contain many other disciplines of thought, such as human biology, medicine, architecture, chemistry, physics, law, history, music, language, agriculture, botany, ethics and other subjects. Experts in appropriate disciplines would need to be consulted to derive the say 12 base foundation knowledge or tenets that govern a field from which in principle all else can be derived given time.

The goal of the information content imprinted onto the artefact would be as follows:

  • Goal 1: The continued survival of the human species at peace.
  • Goal 2: The accelerated technological, social-cultural growth of human civilization from an assumed stagnated level.
  • Goal 3: The preservation of moral and ethical philosophy

There is also a question of what language. One approach would be to take lessons from historical artefacts which contained several languages to ensure future interpretation. This includes the Rosetta Stone (2,200 years old) which contains ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic and ancient Greek. Another example is the Fuente Magna of the Americas (5,000 years old), found in Bolivia but contains both ancient Pukara and a proto-Sumerian alphabet. Another example is the Behistun inscription (2,500 years old) found in Iran, which contains three different cuneiform script languages, that of Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian.

There is also the question of the size and shape of the artefact, and although you want it big enough to find, you also want to manage the construction cost of the project. Something around 6 – 12 inches would seem a good optimum size. The exact shape would have multiple surface areas to facilitate different disciplines of knowledge. One idea is a Dodecahedron, which has 12 faces.

The proposal of the Apkallu Initiative is to form a team which then designs and leads the construction of such an artefact. This can then be reproduced and distributed to different locations around the world. Some would eventually be displayed in art galleries or museums and some will be lost to the land and sea, but the hope is that in the event of the cataclysmic scenario described above that future human will stumble across such an artefact, and after studying it, teach their community everything they need to become a civilized and socially-technologically advanced society. Currently no team has been formed, but this article is an initial invitation of interest and anyone interested can contact the web site: https://www.apkalluinitiative.com/

Our ability to become an interstellar capable species depends in the near term on our ability to survive here on Earth or in near-space. The preservation of the deep knowledge and learning of the human experience is critical to this future, if we are to continue to progress, avoid stagnation and decay or even complete extinction or avoid repeating mistakes of the past.

Finally, such a project has the potential to inspire long-term thinking among differing human societies, and so in itself may be a self-perpetuating mechanism toward social-cultural harmonization and increased global awareness of our fragility in the great Cosmos. In addition, because of its interdisciplinary nature, it has the potential to involve all of humanity on its journey, as we jointly work toward a back-up plan to ensure that humanity can survive in the millennia ahead.

The author dedicates this article to the efforts of Graham Hancock and Randall Carlson, whose significant research inspired this initiative. It was written to garner scrutiny of the idea, before deciding whether to proceed or not. Feedback is invited.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Antonio July 6, 2018, 11:14

    Off-topic but I wonder what happened to Project Icarus. The final report is long overdue. IIRC, the project was planned to run from 2009 to 2014.

  • ljk July 6, 2018, 11:51

    Preserving humanity both as a species and our knowledge/history is always a major, vital goal, as there are so many ways we could be destroyed, both within and without. We did not get this far through so many trials only to let all we have learned and gained fall away either through abuse or neglect.

    It is ironic that while we have the greatest means ever to destroy ourselves, we also have the awareness and capability to save our species and world as never before. One of those ways is through space colonization – and it looks like we may finally be doing this after decades of unkept promises.

    I did not see any mention of the Georgia Guidestones, from which I think the Apkallu Project could learn some important lessons:


    Quoting from the Wikipedia article linked above:

    “The most widely agreed-upon interpretation of the stones is that they describe the basic concepts required to rebuild a devastated civilization. Author Brad Meltzer notes that the stones were built in 1979 at the height of the Cold War, and thus argues that they may have been intended as a message to the possible survivors of a nuclear World War III. The engraved suggestion to keep humanity’s population below 500 million could have been made under the assumption that war had already reduced humanity below this number.”

    There is also the Sunwheel:


    One of the earliest and still the best of the modern era time capsules is the one made for the 1939 New York World’s Fair (a similar one was made for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair):


    My Centauri Dreams article on The Last Pictures about the EchoStar 16 Artifact in Clarke Orbit and related items:


    • Alex Tolley July 6, 2018, 13:32

      The problem with time capsules, and indeed any small, buried object, is that their locations get lost. One advantage of large objects, like the Stonehenge megaliths is that they don’t get lost or moved (although Cleopatra’s Needle ended up in London). I believe that waste dump locations have been lost, so even large “structures” might go missing unless marked well.

      The Georgia Guidestones are a better solution, but the information is very minimal and basic. One might as well use the US Constitution (or the Code of Hammurabi). These are just not much more than “Kilroy was here” totems.

      If we look at some things that we found useful, it was Greek geometry, some still turning up today, that helped civilizations after the collapse of Ancient Greece and Rome. Arabic algebra had similar value. Some basic science would be useful, but this requires saving the equivalent of textbooks of information.

      No language will survive 100,000 years. Just look at how even English has changed in just a 1000 years. It would be unrecognizable 100x as long in the future. Representational pictures rather than symbolic writing may be a better way to go, or at least provide a dictionary of pictures and words so that texts can be translated more directly. The Rosetta Stone works because we understood Greek, but no equivalent would be useful in 100 millennia. Pictures might be the only equivalent of Greek.

      So we may end up with various solutions and media with little more than “Hello to the future” value, of really useful libraries of information that may be very hard to read or understand without a primer. The problem is very analogous to decoding beamed communications from aliens. (Back to Lem’s “His Master’s Voice”.)

      • Joe July 6, 2018, 15:01

        A Spanish teacher once told me that Spanish is pretty much unchanged from 1000 years ago, so it is possible for languages to last a long time. Modern English has that potential given how wide spread it is. Most changes to modern English involve additional vocabulary so it’s conceivable that people will still be speaking English, even 10,000 years from now.

        • Alex Tolley July 6, 2018, 15:37

          Most changes to modern English involve additional vocabulary so it’s conceivable that people will still be speaking English, even 10,000 years from now.

          Just look at how modern English has changed from Old English.
          Nouns have changed, spellings have changed, meanings have changed. Just look at the differences between British and American English, particularly local meanings.

          AFAIK, linguistic rules on the evolution of words are fairly universal, so I have to think that Spanish has also changed over the last millennium.

          Whatever is spoken and written as “English” in 10,000 years, it will likely be unintelligible to contemporary English speakers and scholars.

          • Antonio July 6, 2018, 17:30

            I can understand “Libro de buen amor” (from 1330) without problems, and I don’t have a classic education (I’m a mathematician). I even can understand around 97-98% of Cantar de Mio Cid (written around 1200 but based on older oral poems). Spanish language was more or less fully separated from Latin since around X century.

            • Charley July 7, 2018, 19:53

              what type of mathematician are you (you’re specialization, that is) ?
              (if you please; just curious …)

        • J. Jason Wentworth July 8, 2018, 7:15

          I agree. As Arthur C. Clarke touched upon in “The Fountains of Paradise” (the mayor of the Thalassan town closest to the Starship Magellan’s landing party’s touchdown point said, “I’m sure you won’t understand me, but welcome to Thalassa [and she was surprised to hear, “On the contrary, we understand you perfectly.”]) He narrated that, “once a language is recorded and the recordings are spread, its phonemes become fixed,” so:

          I won’t be surprised if all currently-spoken human languages, even the ones spoken by relatively few people now (as long as they are recorded), remain in use in the far future (or–for the obscure ones–are understood by scholars of those obscure ones). Latin is considered a dead language, yet new Latin words (mostly for scientific usage) are created–using Latin’s word structure rules–all the time. It is only dead (although it is spoken at the Vatican, and even ATMs there use Latin text!) in the sense that–because it ceased to be spoken widely well before sound recording was invented–no one is dead sure (no pun intended!) of how exactly the words were pronounced (reading that “the ‘e sound’ in word x is just like how it sounds in word y” is of little help if no living person knows what the ‘e sound,’ ‘word x,’ or ‘word y’ sounded like when spoken centuries previously).

          • J. Jason Wentworth July 8, 2018, 7:20

            Oops–I meant “The Songs of Distant Earth” (which began as a short story), *not* “The Fountains of Paradise” (while definitely ^not^ interchangeable :-), both are wonderful and thought-provoking novels by Arthur C. Clarke!).

      • ljk July 6, 2018, 15:14

        There is one key benefit to having a time capsule be lost, at least for a while: It has a better chance of surviving theft and destruction at the hands of other humans.

        King Tut’s Tomb is a prime example here. Another is this one, which if it had not been lost at sea we would probably never have known it even existed:


        Here are some links to articles about time capsules lost and found:




        It is scary how quickly the collective human memory fades.

      • xcalibur July 7, 2018, 4:02

        There is no reason to assume that current languages will be unrecognizable in the future. The rate of language change varies depending on many factors, such as literature, standardization, political and economic power, religion, and so on. While English changed greatly between its Old, Middle, and Modern forms, this had much to do with intervening factors such as the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the Great Vowel Shift. Modern English has a vast literature, widespread standardization, and is backed by a superpower, the US, and other anglophone countries. Given these factors, I think the current form of the English language is secure. There are other examples — the fall of Rome split Latin into the Romance languages, for instance. The point is that languages stabilize or change depending on historical trends. Another significant factor is religion — scriptures can have the effect of freezing a language or linguistic register in time.
        This brings me to another point, which is our knowledge of extinct languages. Just because a language is no longer spoken, does not mean that all knowledge of it is lost. As I said, liturgical use of a language is an excellent vehicle for long-term preservation (Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, Old Church Slavonic, etc). A language with secular importance can also be preserved via scholarly interest (Ancient Greek, Latin, Classical Japanese, etc). Even if people in the future no longer speak English as we know it, I would expect scholars and hobbyists to be familiar with the English used during the early centuries of the industrial/scientific era. If we can decode ancient texts from extinct Bronze Age societies, there is no reason to be pessimistic about the future understanding of present languages.

        • ljk July 9, 2018, 9:13

          It is almost a cliché now, but let us make sure that basic mathematics skills remain intact as a communication foundation. Hopefully 1 + 1 = 2 will still be the case one thousand years from now. Math as a literally universal language has been a cornerstone of SETI and METI for decades now.

        • Alex Tolley July 9, 2018, 12:17

          Modern English has a vast literature, widespread standardization, and is backed by a superpower, the US, and other anglophone countries. Given these factors, I think the current form of the English language is secure.

          In my lifetime, words have changed meaning (e.g. “gay”), grammar has changed (plural of roof has changed from rooves to roofs), some words change meaning extremely quickly (e.g. “hot” vs “cool” for things that are socially desired or interesting). British English is being lost to American English with the spelling (e.g. s->z, dropped ‘u”) and meaning. Just reading texts from the 19th century shows how language changes. Extend that for millennia and I don’t see how English will be understood.

          If the aim is to bootstrap a severely impoverished society, we have to assume that knowledge and learning are limited and that there will not be scholars with the knowledge level we have.

          This is a hard problem. Keep the knowledge transmission simple and limited and it won’t offer much to the next civilization. Make it complex and like a large library and you will need technology to store and decode it for our descendants, a technology that must not deteriorate over time.

          No single solution will handle all scenarios, so perhaps we should try everything, from simple liths to “vessels”, developing each as the technology becomes cheap enough to allow huge replication to prevent loss. We don’t want a “Library of Alexandria” disaster where the originals were lost and copies were relatively few. As we know from copying of religious texts, copy errors creep in, in some cases changing the meaning, so replication should be on the front end, not left in the hands of survivors.

          • xcalibur July 9, 2018, 22:11

            Slang tends to be amorphous, and the other changes you mentioned are relatively minor. I’ve read 19th century texts, and while there is a difference in style, it’s still easily accessible. For the past two centuries, we have not seen anything like the tectonic shifts that took place between Old, Middle, and Early Modern forms of English. I think the English language will be fundamentally stable for the foreseeable future. With that said, it is difficult to predict what might happen over millennia of time — English may eventually become a dead language in the very long-term.

            I agree that there should be significant variety in artifacts, ranging from microliths carrying fundamental information to large archives of data.

  • Brett July 6, 2018, 12:42

    I disagree with a fair amount of that history, but I think creating the minilithic artifact for historical preservation is a great idea.

    Placing them is going to be tricky. Put one on the Moon, for example, and unless you put it on a mountain-top it’s going to get covered with dust if it takes millennia for humans to find. It’s even worse on Earth, although there are some candidate places (the Atacama Desert has been extremely dry for millennia).

    • tchernik July 6, 2018, 13:06

      I concur. If by 2050 we are unable to detect in advance and at least try to evacuate some people and life out of Earth for rebuilding life elsewhere, or if we aren’t already a multiplanetary species, then we failed as a civilization.

      Nevertheless, the idea of preserving life and civilization is a worthy endeavor. We should take measures to ensure some rests of our knowledge and existence remain on the long term.

      Probably by leaving stones and vaults with carefully designed self-explicative glyphs on Earth and other celestial bodies detailing our greatest scientific achievements and story, in a way that can last millions of years, or by leaving (or sending) time capsules filled with samples of Earthly life and information to space.

      We can design missions that will bring such time capsules and data pods back to Earth after a very long planned period, increasing the chance that life and knowledge will remain, even if it’s by making it fall from the sky in the far future. If life endured, then it’s a minor inconvenience, if life or civilization perished, it can have a chance to start again.

      Even missions as slow as a Voyager carrying latent bacterial life to other star systems maybe a worthy endeavor in the grand scheme of things.

      • Robin Datta July 7, 2018, 1:48

        “latent bacteria”… preferably viable eukaryotes, past the great fusion of an anaerobic archean & aa aerobic photosynthesizer. Maybe even a tardigrade or two: anyone for a tardigrade civilization in the Future of Deep Time?

      • Robin Datta July 7, 2018, 1:52

        That’s an aerobic bacteriem. Photosynthetic plasmids were incorporated by the plant kingdom later on.

      • J. Jason Wentworth July 10, 2018, 11:38

        On July 6, 2018, 13:06, tchernik wrote (in part):

        “If by 2050 we are unable to detect in advance and at least try to evacuate some people and life out of Earth for rebuilding life elsewhere, or if we aren’t already a multiplanetary species, then we failed as a civilization.”

        That’s a pretty narrow (and depressingly so) definition of the criteria for a successful civilization. Individuals who are obsessed with when and how they will die, and how they can postpone death as long as possible (and I’m not saying or implying that you are one of these, but I have met such people), live lives filled with worry and dread–and they still die anyway (and they often have more health problems due to stress), but:

        People who are–by comparison–“happy-go-lucky” live life to the fullest and are happier. Part of it is also because they don’t take themselves or life as deadly seriously as the perpetual worriers (as Pogo is famous for saying, “Don’t take life too serious; it ain’t nohow permanent”), and:

        Likewise, societies that are obsessed with avoiding or postponing death–beyond taking reasonable precautions, to avoid needlessly early ones–are full of neuroses, psychoses, eating disorders, drug use, etc. We already track asteroids (long-period comets remain an impact threat “wild card”), and if such an object were found to be on a collision course with the Earth, we could–assuming the time window was large enough–adapt existing launch vehicle, spacecraft bus, and nuclear warhead hardware and software to deflect it. In addition:

        We can never be a multi-planetary society (and especially not by 2050) because of the negative health effects of the long interplanetary journeys, and because the other planets have too much or too little in the way of gravity, magnetic field, and atmosphere (and nowhere else is it the oxygen/nitrogen that we need). Even if a manned mission was sent to Mars by “brute force” means, disregarding the crew’s health (Venus–except for an aerial expedition–would be out of the question, and the Moon and Mercury are airless), *settling* any of those worlds would be a far cry from sending a few scientist-astronauts there for a few months.

  • Alex Tolley July 6, 2018, 12:52

    I have to say that I prefer Heath Rezabek’s Vessel idea (Visualizing Vessel) in terms of bootstrapping a future human civilization. A minilith, assuming such small objects even survive or can be found, will contain almost no useful information to bootstrap a future civilization. At best they would be possible proof that there was an earlier civilization.

    I would suggest that to preserve a structure from corrosion or wear, the best thing to do is bury it in some way, with clear indicators to its presence. It must survive the ravages not just of the elements, but of human robbers until a future civilization can use its information. Perhaps a magnetic anomaly to mark a large, buried object.

    Kelvin Long’s proposal could easily be achieved by pre-human civilization. So where are they? Either they were never produced, or they were lost. The latter would not be a good omen for their production today.

    It has been suggested that satellites might survive for millions of years in a suitable orbit. Perhaps we would be better thinking about ways such a satellite could send messages to Earth for that time. The simplest being a light curve that indicates prime numbers. That would be visible, and readable by any civilization able to build a detector and point it at the light in the sky. A local version of what SETI hopes to find.

    • ljk July 6, 2018, 15:35

      Regarding your last paragraph, there is the LAGEOS Plaque which will do just that in 8 million years time:


      The linked article says 10 million years, but I distinctly recall the return date for LAGEOS 1 was in 8 million CE. Guess I will just have to wait to find out….

      Also interesting that a part of the plaque shown has something missing: The year 1976 and USA inside a rectangle just above the depiction of the satellite. Not sure why they removed it.

      There is also the KEO satellite time capsule, which is supposed to stay in Earth orbit for 50,000 years before returning with information from our era:


      The one big problem with this project is they have been promising to launch it into space since the 1990s. It is supposed to go up next year, but we will see.

  • Douglas Muir July 6, 2018, 13:10

    There will not be a catastrophic civilization-destroying asteroid impact in 2050. Or in 2060 or 2080 or in 2100. We’ve located and mapped every Near-Earth object that’s over 2 km in diameter, and 90% of the ones that are 1-2 km. There is nothing out there, big enough to seriously seriously damage our civilization, that is going to hit us in the next hundred years. We know this to a very high degree of certainty.

    So, starting with an imaginary impact scenario just… ugh. Why is it always impacts with these people?

    Speaking of which, the impact hypothesis for the Younger Dryas is currently not favored. It was hot back around 2010 or so, but several additional years of research have cast it into serious doubt, and not too many paleoscientists are taking it seriously now.

    Doug M.

    • hiro July 6, 2018, 15:33

      Right, a global plankton collapse seems to have higher probability to happen in the next 100 years. Anyway, the bible that describes +6000 years flat earth history will no doubt survive.

      • ljk July 6, 2018, 15:49

        Everyone who is interested in this subject should read the great science fiction novel A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.


        One of the reoccurring themes in the story is that often what survives the ages is what contemporary humanity would consider to be their junk, both literal and cultural. Well, that is one reason why archaeologists sift ancient dumps to get a truer picture of the long-gone society they are studying.

        • hiro July 6, 2018, 23:03

          Yeah, the Codex Seraphiniaus! It would be very hard to tell truth from fiction if we were given an ET’s version of this piece aka Sagan’s encyclopedia galactica.

          It would be very sad if the future generations (10k-100k years) after the collapse “discover” an unknown ancient writing system and its mystic technology. If the infamous UFO cult survived, it would be the ultimate proof of ET visiting the Earth in “ancient time” before the collapse, a similar version of Nightfall I guess.

          • ljk July 9, 2018, 9:10

            UFOs tend to be more exciting and accessible to the general public than SETI and METI, so it is possible. I know when I mention to various folks that I am interested in astronomy and space, I am more often than not either asked about my views on UFOs and alien life, or I am told about their UFO sighting, and in a few memorable cases, their abduction by aliens.

            So besides SETI needing to make a positive discovery, the science community needs to bolster its outreach efforts in this area, or pseudoscience will prevail. We are already seeing it happen on a wide scale.

          • ljk July 9, 2018, 13:31

            The 1970s Marvel comic book series Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, which dealt with a lone human survivor after some great cataclysm wrecked Earth and made animals intelligent and humans less than (Marvel could not get the rights to the Planet of the Apes franchise), had in-jokes about things like this.

            In one issue, Kamandi’s non-human companion were exploring a museum of natural history that had dinosaur skeletons on display. His friend told Kamandi how humans used hunt these creatures. When the Last Boy on Earth did not believe him, his friend told him to check the “Spielberg Files”.

      • Denver July 9, 2018, 18:19

        Turtles all the way down.

  • Robert July 6, 2018, 13:18

    Encode into DNA of a common plant human history and a primer on technology. Then explore various strategies so the plant will get people’s attention in effect saying ‘read me, here’s how’.

    • Alex Tolley July 6, 2018, 15:43

      Two problems:
      1. The sequences will change over time due to copy errors and evolution driving favored mutants,

      2, How are you going to create the dictionary to translate the sequences?

      • Robert July 7, 2018, 14:00

        Evolutionary changes select things that are selectable. This data theoretically would not effect the living cells so it shouldn’t change and even if it did, there could be redundancy to compensate so scientists of the future could figure that out.

        Actually, what I’m proposing woud be similar to what Carl Sagan proposed in the book Contact. The data would have it’s key in the structure or in the visible aspects of the patterns on leaves which could have symbols or even some text as part of the patterns. Imagine butterflies for example with wing patterns that read ‘read me’ on the wings. We don’t have to imagine that much;


        Perhaps this concept has already been implimented? Food for thought.

        • Alex Tolley July 9, 2018, 11:59

          In the short term, redundancy would work, but not in the longer term. If it did, speciation would never occur and we would not be able to build phylogenetic trees. Speciation can be very fast (e.g. bacteria), but a few millennia or tens of millennia is enough. The DNA sequence will drift, even when averaged over a population.

          You still have the problem of a dictionary being needed, as well as the descendants having the technology to read sequences and knowing which species is/are important..

          • Robert July 9, 2018, 13:56

            It’s fun to speculate about these issues but I think what would be more valuable than any artifact would be distilling human knowledge into a succinct set of commonly knowable facts that every person would both know and be able to teach such that any small group of humans could extrapolate from these how to experiment and thus know more and more. That’s Tehe sort of idea that religions propagate with. As the Apostle Paul stated “The things which you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit the same to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also”.

            For example, if a group of people knew the basic existence of electricity and that there are particles called electrons in metals that can be harnessed to do specific useful things, maybe they could figure out how to develop that into technology faster than it was initially done since they have the end goal in mind and know what’s possible.

            Also, Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit. Knowing that the chip exists is a start to inventing it again in a future scenario.

            I think this could be a testable proposition.

        • ljk July 9, 2018, 12:22

          What ‘Arrival’ got right about communicating with space aliens

          If aliens make contact, like in the 2016 film, we’ll need to know how to respond — and what to say.

          by Denise Chow / Jul.06.2018 / 4:31 AM ET


          To quote:

          Let me ask you an even more basic question: What is language?

          I think the answer is a resounding “um.” We don’t really know. We don’t know where it came from. We experience language, we use it every day, and I continue to think about it. I can tell you about its relative complexity as compared to other forms of communication from other species on Earth. I can tell you things about what language does. But the definition of language is a social object, not a scientific object.

          What if aliens make contact, but their way of communicating is vastly different from our own? What would you do as a linguist to try to understand them?

          This presumes that we have a face-to-face interaction, which is probably not how it will go down. We are much more likely to have to deal with a more prosaic radio signal. Superficially, this sounds disappointing. Everybody wants the saucer on the White House lawn scenario, and the radio signals feel like a distant second best. But actually, the radio signal confirming that we are not alone would rock my personal world and probably most of the rest of everybody’s world, too.

          But it doesn’t matter much what the medium is — swirls of color, vocalizations, hand or tentacle gestures — as long as we have two things.

          One, a language which is learnable — which, depending on how alien they are, we might not have. There are at least two hypotheses here: the folks who think that for a language to be a language, it will possess a core similar to our own, so we could learn it, and the folks who think that alien bodies and environment might be dramatically different from ours and this might cause their language to be correspondingly different, and so un-learnable.

          Two, [we’d need] an agreed-upon context so we could start learning each other’s words. As a linguist, in a new language-learning situation, I rely a lot on context. If I don’t know your language and I walk up to you, make a quizzical face, hold up an apple, point to it, you would get the idea that I want the word for “apple.” So you’d say “apple,” and if I did it again, you’d say “apple” again. That is, you’d get that idea if you and I understood that language learning is the game we are playing.

  • Joe July 6, 2018, 13:20

    I too have often wondered about the possibility of earlier civilizations. It seems to me that even in the middle of an ice age, agriculture and the rise of civilization should have been possible in the tropics (which would have had a temperate climate during an ice age.) However, as the historian Ian Morris points out, it takes more than just a temperate climate to get civilization going. In his book “Why the West Rules for Now” he coined the term “lucky latitudes” to describe the regions of the earth around 30 degrees North latitude. This is where agriculture got started because this is where the right species of wheat and the seeds for other food crops could be found. In contrast, 30 degrees South latitude did not have these seeds, so despite similar climates, it was much harder for civilization to get started in the southern hemisphere.

  • Kelvin Long July 6, 2018, 13:24

    Antonio: project Icarus report due out likely 2019 as a book. Only half a dozen people now actively working on it but brining the study to a closure. I am still involved with that, currently managed by Rob Swinney.

    ljk: fantastic links, thank you. I didn’t know about some of those. Thank you for sharing. I’m obviously coming at this from a worst case assumption (except for total annihilation of the human race) but the way I see it all and any projects that serve to preserve human memory is helpful to the future. The Georgia Guidestone project is particularly interesting and its vandalism a useful data point to what could happen to the Apkallu artefact. I would be interested to learn more about the process by which they derived their 10 guidelines. What science is the 500 million based on for example? One of the issues for the Apkallu project is who’s ethics are the right ones and how do we decide?

    Brett; I agree the history is controversial, plenty to poke holes in. But I appreciate the support all the same. Thank you. I agree Earth weathering is an issue, but we have dug up many archaeological artefacts over the last few centuries, so there is hope, and perhaps one could construct clues towards its discovery.

    • Antonio July 6, 2018, 15:29

      Thanks! I will be looking forward for it.

  • Joe July 6, 2018, 13:44

    In addition to a hypothetical comet strike 12,000 years ago, there was also the Toba volcano eruption.
    Some scientists think this disaster may have reduced the world human population to around 10,000. So on a geologic time scale, the world has always been a very dangerous place to live.

  • Eric July 6, 2018, 13:52

    See Greg Benford’s book “Deep Time”. It covers a lot of what you’re thinking about. Maybe Dr Benford could weigh in on this discussion thread?

  • Gary Wilson July 6, 2018, 14:25

    Even if we have most of the impactors mapped there are many, many threats to civilization, including ourselves. Nuclear war followed by nuclear winter (given the fanaticism that has arisen recently this seems frighteningly plausible), environmental collapse, drastic human caused climate change as CO2 levels rise and trigger unstoppable positive feedback loops. The list goes on and on. If possible we should try many different approaches to long term storage of knowledge. It should be a whole branch of study at universities. The future is extremely uncertain now given our huge population which causes enormous impacts on the Earth’s critical biosystems. Why won’t we wake up?

    • Alex Tolley July 6, 2018, 15:48

      If we do have a civilizational collapse, much of our knowledge will not be of interest to survivors trying to survive. Only when some level of stability and civilization arise again, will that knowledge be of value. As our technological development has been path dependent, where this is important, how will this be offered – levels that only open once proof of mastery of a simpler technology is demonstrated?

      • Robert July 10, 2018, 13:18

        I concur. Certain well developed ideas in art, science and engineering might constrain a new civilization from making its own path forward. For example, relate to them the basic facts as determined by experiment such as in electromagnetism without the extensively developed theory leading to ideas like quantum electrodynamics. Let them discover how to interpret and develop the science, engineering and technology from a fresh perspective.

    • Andrei July 6, 2018, 15:54

      Yes, why not wake up and take action, instead of viewing the problems from a defeatist viewpoint.
      Last year and only 5 km from my home there were a methane blow-out caused by melting subsurface ice, do I sit down and resign or plan for my death? Not at all, I study the site!

      I am optimistic, in that I doubt that humanity will so reduced to loose the ability to lets say make electricity.
      And education will be maintained in societies that are not so distorted that they have handed that over to commercial interests = one additional reason why education at all levels should be free.
      But advanced engineering, medical and sociological skills might vanish, since they might not be considered useful in a aftermath society.
      So a time capsule could be useful to provide such information and collection and format that into a universal scientific language in mathematics, providing a codex could be a good idea.

      Reading Kevin Longs reply, I agree.
      I doubt there be an apocalypse, but if I am wrong.
      We do not know what ethic a future society might have, in small remote societies pre-Christian habit of sharing partners to spread the genes as much as possible to avoid inbreeding. A society built from such a group could bring that idea into the main religion.

      The same for our kind of economy, stock trading might be seen as ‘gambling’, property investment as a ‘pyramid game’, and both be a sin for the future descendants.
      So I think the time capsule should only tell about the more advanced aspects of Biology/Biochemistry/Genetics, Chemistry and Engineering and material science and so on.

    • Robin Datta July 7, 2018, 2:30
  • ljk July 6, 2018, 15:27

    The serious issue of telling future generations about the dangers of our buried nuclear waste has been turned into some fascinating studies and documents:


    • Eric Hughes July 6, 2018, 16:51

      The best known document from this is _Communication Measures to Bridge Ten Millennia_, by Thomas A. Sebeok. It’s known for proposing a priesthood of nuclear waste, which addresses the issue of long-duration trans-generational communication with the only mechanism ever demonstrated to actually work: a human lineage of thought.
      Available for free download here: https://www.osti.gov/biblio/6705990

      • ljk July 9, 2018, 8:58

        Roman Catholic monks and Muslim clerics and scholars kept the remains of Europe’s ancient literature alive for centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire by copying and recopying by hand the texts they could acquire. We would have so much less knowledge of the Greeks and Romans without their efforts.

        • Alex Tolley July 9, 2018, 11:53

          The Irish saved civilization ;)

  • James cox July 6, 2018, 15:41

    Wonderful idea. So many unknowns but driven by the dearest hope. The continued evolution of culture either on a planets surface or in space would offer our greatest opportunities for species survival. Always looking for new fronteers adds a continued opportunity for adaptation. We will likely diverge genetically as we become isolated into new habitates or environments. Knowledge as content will likely diverge also dependent upon our genetic or technological divergence. The multitude of other humans might offer knowledge not yet recognized. I wonder if other cultures not-human have taken this path and if we would recognize it? The nature around us has left time capsels in the form of bones fossils an geology. Our present culture would likely leave remains to be found by what ever culture might come after us. So much we take for granted would become time capsels . City dumps, to nuclear test sites would tell that next culture what the thought what we valued and what might have done us in. So choose well much of our culture has already spocken for us.

  • ljk July 6, 2018, 15:45

    The 2017 documentary The Farthest tells the history of the twin Voyager space probes to the outer planets of the Sol system and beyond on the fortieth anniversary of their launches from Earth in 1977.

    Each flyby segment is interspersed with information and interviews about the Golden Record, including some of the original design team members:


    One thing you will learn from the documentary is how many of the project people and space agency officials at the time were opposed to the Golden Record, which is more than a little ironic considering they had the vision to send space vessels to aliens worlds in the first place:


  • ljk July 6, 2018, 15:53

    The Long Now Foundation has also been doing its share to preserve our culture:


    One thing they did was to get samples of one thousand human languages on the Rosetta comet probe. While I am not certain that a comet is the best place to preserve an artifact, they have the right idea.


  • ljk July 6, 2018, 15:59

    There is also a plan to put a library on the Moon:


    Courtesy of the company that also preserved items aboard Elon Musk’s red Tesla sports car, which he put into deep space earlier this year:


  • Tibor Pacher July 6, 2018, 16:21

    Hi Kelvin,

    as always, I enjoy Your writing :-)

    I would like to call Your attention to Martin Kunze’s great project, Memory of Mankind, which – although its roots are different – incorporates many similar thoughts.

    Check out the website:

    We at Puli Space are working on getting some MoM “ceramic microfilms” to the Moon as well:
    http://www.pulispace.com/en/mom-on-the-moon (content will be updated)

  • Geoffrey Hillend July 6, 2018, 16:52

    I don’t think we have to worry about a large impact in 2050 since our space travel technology will be more advanced. VASIMR can deflect and asteroid size impactor maybe even comets which could also be deflected by atomic and thermonuclear explosions. Even with today’s technology we could still deflect one if we see coming in time.

    One has to be careful with myths, since a Jungian and depth psychological view does not take them literally and concretely, but figuratively and symbolically; they represent psychological processes; like death, rebirth and renewal.

    Looked at from the viewpoint of nature, necessity and survival, the dinosaurs were destined to become obsolete since their environment would have slowly changed anyway due to the carbon cycle coming into balance and plants removed all the Co2, the ice ages became possible and the climate would have changed anyway so the dinosaurs would have been forced to become extinct anyway.

    I think we should worry about the problems we already have today like climate change and flooding. If the flooding starts before 2050 as revised predictions in a recent study concludes, that it should be painfully obvious to anyone that the flooding is not part of the normal weather cycle. Maybe the world will work together soon and not wait until that happens to become unified.

    • Robin Datta July 7, 2018, 2:57

      Did someone say flooding?
      Ocean Apocalypse Now
      Franklin & Marshall College
      Common Hour

      Jeremy Jackson Senior Scientist Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution and Professor of Oceanography, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

      November 20, 2014, at 11:30 a.m.Mayser Gymnasium

      MSL rise 13′-14′ (4 metres) in a couple of years when the WAIS breaks: @27:00 mins.

  • H. Floyd July 6, 2018, 16:54

    This reminds me of Dr. Robert Zubrin’s fascinating idea of microbial SETI — that in a panspermic galaxy, interspecies signals could be encoded through deep time in ancestral DNA. (Centauri Dreams, 12/21/17.) Dr. Zubrin’s suggestion above (I think), to use ubiquitous plant DNA as a medium, is equally fascinating.

    This prompts the question, Why displace the information at all? For better or worse, we are so close to a breakthrough in human genetic design that it should soon be possible to harmlessly preserve our encyclopedias within human DNA itself. This would ensure that any surviving descendants — or descendant species — will literally have it on hand.

    (I also couldn’t help but notice the article’s dedications. With utmost respect, this work presents an exciting idea worth serious thought — and like SETI, it deserves support from reputable scientific champions. It risks becoming marginalized by anything less: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Graham_Hancock )

    • Robin Datta July 7, 2018, 3:18

      The language of the genes is not quite the same as some language constructed to store extraneous information. Alex Tolley’s earlier points about DNA as an information storage system still apply.

  • Kelvin Long July 6, 2018, 17:33

    Great comments so far, just the feedback that was needed. Some brief responses:

    Alex Tolley; The point is not to preserve text books of information, but the foundation principles upon which all else, given effort and time, can be derived. Essentially the artefact would give the essential survival information to rebuild civilization, but also be the catalyst to a long-term research project to grow that civilization. Think of the top 12 principles of physics you think it would be useful to know for example. Remember how Richard Feynman used to derive everything himself from a few principles. I agree with Greek geometry, and other works. There is much that can be derived from a simple pictrogram of various solid shapes for example if one studies them and their relation to each other. You may be right about no language surviving 100,000 years, hence it may be necessary to go to the very basics; such as geometry. Regarding the ancient Megalithic structures, it is my contention that they were in fact encoded with sacred geometry, for the purposes of providing understanding down the later generations.

    Joe; I think what could be useful if we are to include any linguistics on the artefact, that one would give a lesson in its understanding first, such as pointing out the basic symbolic structure.

    Ljk; I agree on the loss of collective memory. It is a huge concern to me.

    Tchernick; I agree. Imagine if we still had access to the great library of Alexandria, possibly destroyed by human ignorance.

    Alex Tolley; I too like the idea of Heath Rezabek. I believe we should try all ideas, to increase our chances of survival over the ages ahead. Regarding not being found, well as indicated in the article thousands of Cuneiform cylinder seals exist, and I own several of them. These are thousands of years old and typically only an inch in size – yet we uncovered them. Regarding burying, indeed this is a good idea. There are some suggestions that Gobekli Tepe may have been deliberately backfilled by those that constructed it, possibly for the purpose of preserving it for future generations. This is also the reason why the leading archaeologists on the site (Klaus Schmidt) decided not to yet excavate the rest of the site, which is around 50 times what they have so far examined. Regarding robbers, it would have little material value if just constructed of stone (which is one of the reasons I prefer this approach). Its main value is in the information that it contains. I like your satellite idea and we should be doing that too – and I see that ljk has shared some useful links relevant to this. Great!

    Douglas Muir; With respect Sir, how do you account for ‘Oumuamua in 2017 and Asteroid 2018 GE3 this year, both of which were surprises to our Earth observers? How also do you explain Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and its impact with Jupiter in 1994? This suggests to me, that we know less than we think we do. Are you willing to take that risk? By the way, impacts are not something I have historically had an interest in. But just to point out why it is likely an issue with “these people”, perhaps the K-T event that wiped out massive populations of plant and animal life on Earth might explain this? Regarding the Younger Dryas, I acknowledge your comment that it is controversial, and I will state there are competing hypothesis including the influx of fresh water from North America to the Atlantic that affected the Atlantic circulation currents. Another proposed by the geologist Robert Robert Schoch relates to solar instability and he favours this. However, from my own reading I believe that the research being done by the cometary hypothesis impact team (which involves around 30 academics) at least places this idea on a par with the others and deserves consideration. The Apkallu initiative web site lists some of the key papers exploring this idea:

    Something I forgot to mention in the article is the credible speculation over the Burckle Crater, which may have been an impact in the Indian Ocean around 5,000 years ago, producing 600 ft tall sediment deposits in Madagascar as a result of large Tsunamis. It has been speculated, that this event could be the origin of the Biblical deluge story.

    hiro; I believe that the Bible contains references to events that may pre-date 6,000 years, because its construction was based on earlier texts, as alluded to in the article. The deluge is a classic example.

    Robert; good idea, but the ability to read DNA requires some sophisticated technology.

    Gary Wilson; I agree it should be a branch of study in academia. It is very important to establish long term thinking within our cultures.

    Thank you all so far. I don’t claim the Apkallu initiative is the correction approach to the problem of preserving human memory, but it is just one of many complimentary approaches we may like to take. I like the idea because of the simplicity of the construction, although complexity of information it would contain. It does not assume the existence of advance technology or transport mechanisms or even that we are in space. It takes us right back to basics of a stone structure.

  • Antonio July 6, 2018, 17:40

    I’m not convinced that we are facing significant existencial risks. If things like these happened so often to much more primitive humans and we are still here, I’m not afraid at all:

    “Indeed, it is the belief of this author that impact events which can lead to global devastation of the human population may be as frequent as 1/1,000 – 1/10,000 years. In addition to impact risks there are many other threats to human existence. This may include the implications of magnetic field reversal. Such an event occurred 41,400 years ago during the last ice age, called the Laschamp event.”

    I’m also not afraid of diseases, for the same reason, but also because infectiousness is inversely proportional to lethality, and because we aren’t in the Middle Ages. Wars? They have been consistently disminishing over centuries. Ecological disaster? Its danger is usually highly exagerated. Same for nuclear wars. Infection by alien microbes? Totally absurd. Alien invasion to steal our resources? There are plenty of resources everywhere.

    Also, the possibility that all infrastructure and information are destroyed but not all humans is quite strange and I can’t really imagine a scenario for that. Seriously, what can destroy every book, including those in the libraries of Quito universities, 3 km above sea level, and technical and medical books inside nuclear submarines, and not kill all humans?

    Anyway, I think the project would be interesting for preserving artistic/cultural works. I don’t think science and technology will be so easily lost, but music, poetry, history, … are a different matter. Very little of the Ancient Egyptian literature and mathematics are conserved, but we don’t really need the latter. OTOH, we have no substitute for the former.

  • Andrew Palfreyman July 6, 2018, 17:44

    If indeed it turns out that we are the sole surviving intelligent race in the galaxy, the requirements laid out here become even more urgent.

  • Kelvin Long July 6, 2018, 19:32

    Alex Tolley; The assumption of the project is that humans have gone back to a hunter-gatherer form of existence, but as the climate and associated plant, animal life recovers, we are again able to start building out our communities. It is then that the artefact would become of use. It is not the intention to say teach ‘how to start a fire’ since if future man can’t do that, any hope is greatly reduced.

    If we imagined a community surviving, and then the human civilization was to be built from that starting point, maybe it would take them another 10,000 to get back to our social-cultural-technological level of existence. The idea is that the apkallu artefact would accelerate the growth rate of the civilization, so that we could get to that future point in a fraction of the time by the injection of knowledge value. It is a civilization accelerator.

    Andrea; I would like to think there is no apocalypse scenario pending either, but the question is what level of confidence are we prepared to place in that assumption? What is the cost/benefit of doing something or not doing anything to prepare for such a scenario? The amount of effort to construct these artefacts is very small, yet the output from such an endeavour has large intrinsic value – not to mention discussions like this in itself which makes us think more about our future survival strategies.

    I refer you to the quote on the front page of the Apkallu initiative web site: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”, Charles Darwin.

    Eric Hughes: “….which addresses the issue of long-duration trans-generational communication with the only mechanism ever demonstrated to actually work: a human lineage of thought.”. This sentence is not clear to me, please elaborate on ‘ever demonstrated’ and also what you mean by lineage of thought? Thanks.

    James Cox: I like the idea of the existing time capsules often buried, but they are often made of plastics and metals, and I ask the question how long will they survive for? Centuries? Thousands of years in some cases? What about 10,000 years? I picked 100,000 years deliberately as a form of temporal stretch goal, because I also believes it pushes the conversation into new territory.

    Ljk: that is fascinating to read about the scientists objecting to the Voyager golden Record. Does anyone know the reasons they were raising to justify their objections? I think it would be useful to understand that, from a sociological perspective.
    I agree the Long Now Foundation is doing some good work and I visited their facility in San Francisco only earlier this year. The actual Long Now clock prototype currently hangs in the Science Museum in London, which I also recently visited. I would be interested in talking to Stewart Brand about the Apkallu initiative.

    Tibor Pacher: Great to hear from you Tibor. Fantastic work with MoM project. Thanks for the comments.

    Geoffrey Hillend: I’m a fan of VASIMR and visited their laboratory last year, they are doing excellent work. But I suspect the applications of this technology to asteroid deflection are limited in terms of the mass of object. Atomic and TN explosions also have great potential, but what is critical to all of these is ‘time’, having sufficient time to plan your mitigation strategy, and then the state of the object after you have acted on it. In my view, we should already have that in place if we wish to be proactive rather than reactive.

    Geoffrey, I also agree with you about religious texts and the dangers of taking them too literally. I have been studying many of the first religious texts of several of our great cultures, and not just the Abrahamic religions, and I have just formed a view that although there is much ‘creativity’ in those stories, the common patterns that you see across some of them may be attributed to lost memory of actual events, which become mythology and then creation stories. But how can we distinguish them from the background noise? I think the only way to do that is to compare those stories to our scientific observations of the history of Planet Earth, and then find examples where they are consistent. It would then be arrogant of us to then ignore wider possibilities on the basis we consider them too speculative.

    Regards what we worry about today. It is my personal viewpoint that we should be out there in the Cosmos. We should be on the Moon and on Mars and around the gas giants and visiting other star systems. This is the reason I have just spent the last decade dedicated to interstellar studies. But what has bought me to my current ‘bottom up’ thinking, is mostly my concern for the chaos of human social-cultural relations, and how this could lead to the elongation of our advanced technological achievements to a later date of attainment, which then opens us up further to other existential risks. My own personal experience with having worked on many interstellar projects is that there are obstacles in the way, and the technological ones are not the tall pole in the tent. If we wanted to go to the stars this century, we can do so technologically. I am for example a member of the Breakthrough Starshot advisory committee and I believe in the promise of that project. But what makes me worry about whether such initiatives achieve their goal,…..is us and the barriers we place in the path.

    H.Floyd: I acknowledge that the author Graham Hancock has had a controversial writing career, and also that some of his suggestions for the future (from his early writing career) may not have been proven to be correct. But I don’t see how that is any different to a scientist that publishes papers on a new theory of physics, which are later proven to be incorrect. I think publishing ideas is very healthy, and then people should acquire the skills of reason to make objective decisions on what is likely true and not true themselves. I would also say however that the work Graham Hancock has recently done, relating to his pursuit of the idea for an earlier civilization, has been courageous and rigorous and he has put himself out there under the willing scrutiny of opposing views. I would also highlight Randall Carlson, who I also dedicate the article to, who has spent four decades researching the geology of historical floods, and the possibility of an impact event on the North American ice sheet, as a solution to the so called ‘Energy Paradox’. These are both outliers from the main stream, but visionary thinkers prepared to stand up and express an opinion as a form of alternative contrarian argument. Long live the contrarians. We need them.

    Antonio: Please try to see the scenario I play out as a thought experiment, and as a form of worst case scenario. It is likely that much will survive, and hopefully even books (I own nearly 5,000 myself). I am just trying to bring this down to the lowest possible (barely survivable) existence, other than complete annihilation.

    Thank you all for your interest so far. I would love to hear more specific thoughts on the sort of knowledge one would record. Such as in human biology, or physics, or architecture, or mathematics or astronomy or geology. Would anyone like to have a crack at listing say 12 key foundation knowledge of information from any discipline of human knowledge for which they feel qualified for? Not wanting to create any toxic discussions so please be respectful to others, but how would you re-write the 10 commandments for example? That would seem like an obvious starting point for a good discussion.

    • hiro July 6, 2018, 22:53

      What about the extinction that happened (without our contribution) around 250 M years ago? If it were to happen again in the future, there would be no place to hide on this planet.

      • ljk July 9, 2018, 8:41

        That is why we need to get at least some of our species and various flora and fauna off Earth and spread terrestrial life around the Sol system, then the rest of the galaxy.

        • Alex Tolley July 9, 2018, 11:52

          I agree. We are going to need to do this anyway should we colonize space in habitats or on planets. For dead worlds, I am happy to green them with terrestrial life.

    • Project Studio July 7, 2018, 2:08

      Even more valuable than knowledge is the transmission of wisdom. For example, Hermes Trismegistus’ emerald tablets left us the aphorism ‘as above, so below.’ This is the first principle of all science.
      The Pythagorean Theorem can be illustrated, and proven, with simple pictograms showing which re-arrange the areas of the squares summing to the square of the hypotenuse. This is the foundation of higher mathematics and engineering.
      The Tarot provided picto-graphic clues to the inner meanings of a number of myths from an earlier age which have today become the archetypes of modern psychology. By encoding them on the cards used for gambling games, the originators ensured the transmission of this wisdom through the ages.
      The Sphinx itself tells us of an earlier Egyptian civilisation that preceded the sands of the Sahara.
      Knowledge of early mankind has already been encoded in human DNA, and shamanic methods have been transmitted that enable its decoding.
      Proud to be a contrarian!

    • Robin Datta July 7, 2018, 3:51

      If humanity is reset to small isolated communities, the rest of the world will not be reset to pristine ecosystems, high-grade ores and the “low hanging fruit” of fossil fuels. The high levels of technology needed to contend with the depletion of resources and the degradation of the environment won’t be there.

    • ljk July 9, 2018, 8:51

      Kelvin Long said above:

      “Ljk: that is fascinating to read about the scientists objecting to the Voyager golden Record. Does anyone know the reasons they were raising to justify their objections? I think it would be useful to understand that, from a sociological perspective.”

      Various reasons: They felt the Golden Record had no scientific value or purpose on the Voyager mission, even though that is now its only purpose for the next few billion years; they found the Record to be a distraction from the real mission of the deep space probes; they did not like how the Records got so much attention in comparison to the astronomical discoveries the Voyagers were making; and there was a level of embarrassment across the board from the mission engineers, scientists, and space agency management that there was a gold-plated LP containing messages for alien intelligences bolted to their vessels.

      In the documentary The Farthest, they tell how NASA initially depicted or released photographs of the Voyager probe with the side where the Golden Record was not. They also held the official press conference about the Record in a nearby cheap hotel adjacent to a Polish wedding reception. NASA almost removed the Record from the Voyagers when Timothy Ferris committed the terrible crime of putting a liner note on the LP – which was not part of NASA’s meticulous specs.

      Finally, NASA was also gun-shy about certain depictions of various nude humans on the Record, especially after their experiences with the Pioneer Plaque, which famously showed a male and female human… with no clothes on! The Golden Record has a segment depicted human reproduction, which considering how abstract certain images had to be, I will be amazed if any intelligent being can figure out what is going on there.

      • ljk July 10, 2018, 9:55

        When the New Horizons space probe was being readied in the early 2000s to become the first mission to flyby Pluto (and only the fifth spacecraft to eventually leave the Sol system), that space vessel team purposely opted not to attach any kind of information package of the same significance of the Voyager Records or even the Pioneer Plaques, the latter of which they would have barely had to modify.

        Instead they treated the situation as if they were putting together a time capsule that some small town might bury in their local park for one hundred years.

        Other than including some of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930 (complete with a dedication cover written only in English), every other item placed on New Horizons was meant merely as a memento to the team, with no effort to make them comprehensible to future beings who might find the probe one day drifting far beyond our Sol system.

        This is what happens when not even a small group of people are allowed to make an effort to share something about ourselves on deep space missions.

        For the details on what is riding out to Pluto and beyond and the rather sad story of how things came about, look here:


  • Alex Tolley July 6, 2018, 22:26

    Would anyone like to have a crack at listing say 12 key foundation knowledge of information from any discipline of human knowledge

    For biology, I would want to make sure that evolution via natural selection is stated. This is so fundamental to understanding and interpreting the natural world that it should preferably not be forgotten or painfully relearned. How to explain that in just pictures would be interesting. My first thought is major forms with arrows to imply evolution in one direction, e.g. fish->amphibians->reptiles->mammals
    To explain populations and mutations, perhaps colored dots, with mutant organisms as different colors and again, arrows show different mixes of colors that eventually become primarily a different color.

    • Curious July 8, 2018, 16:41

      Yes. Those advances that took us 1500+ years. It would make sense to record basic things that enable society to move from subsistence living to having the “luxury” of adequate sustenance, health, and time in which to (re)learn higher thought. Perhaps: food crop production/yield, animal husbandry/fishing, human nutrition, disease control (vectors, condition, and how prevent), basic medicine, civil engineering/hydrology, metals mining/smelting/alloys, utilization of resources to produce electricity and chemicals, basic microbiology, basic optics (enable science), basic genetics (prevent inbreeding), basic thermodynamics (steam/fossil fuel power), basic etc.

      Looking at society – what percentage across the globe are moderately educated? 5%? you will need to consider that those who survive may not have sufficient education/knowledge that they can decipher more than say advanced pictograms. Perhaps large granite slabs that are passive libraries and then place duplicates in a 1000 locations across the globe and at elevations that can be above all the icecaps having melted.

  • Rob Flores July 6, 2018, 22:48

    How many times has a culture that has aquired the rudiments of
    scientific principle (even its just “believe only your eyes”) and advanced to bronze age, only to be thrown back to square one.

    It only takes a weather disruption of 2 years to put a damper on
    our modern world. Such a 2 year event in more primitive state would
    result in total collapse.

    Humans are about 130,000-100,000 yrs old. This up and down “cycle” could have happened more than a dozen times in the past. Another data point to explain the Fermi Paradox

    • Antonio July 7, 2018, 15:32

      “How many times has a culture that has aquired the rudiments of
      scientific principle (even its just “believe only your eyes”) and advanced to bronze age, only to be thrown back to square one.”

      I don’t know any example.

    • Thomas R Mazanec July 9, 2018, 12:32

      Here is an interesting youtube on this ides https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yc64zEZaqBE

  • Nate July 7, 2018, 0:05

    Wow, very interesting. Maybe all that you would have to ingrave in stone, and visible to the naked eye, would be some form of instructions on how to melt sand into magnifying glasses, line them up just so, in order to read micro engravings on silica wafers containing much more information than could fit on the surface of a stone. The stones containing the instructions would have the wafers embedded inside. The wafers themselves, barely readable using a crude microscope of sorts, would contain instructions on how to build a more advanced device to read another set of wafers containing the complete set of written knowledge in all languages. Such an “unboxing” of info might take many years.

  • Robin Datta July 7, 2018, 1:13

    The Apkalu Initiative sounds like a winner. A caveat or two. One of the structures should be placed in front of the now current Chief Executive of a leading country (or some mental + moral equivalent to that person): without offering any hints, observe whether that Test Subject in Chief can discern stuff from shinola about that object. It well may turn out to be the equivalent of placing an algebra text book in front of a bullfrog.

    Or maybe we should enlist the Chief Executive (or some mental + moral equivalent) in designing that artefact so that it can be bigly suitable if found by others like that person.

  • ole burde July 7, 2018, 6:27

    I know its not fair to bring Common Sense into this , but just can’t resist the tempation …
    The Apcalla initiative is not a ‘Plan B’ for humanity , but more like a Plan Z , the very last chance in the worst possible scenario …. great ,we need one of those as well , but Common Sense might imply to deal with Plan B first ,even if it lacks the advantage of being without a direct interface to the unpleasant realities of politics, demografics and religion .
    A sensible Plan B must relate to the most likely generaly destructive scenario , and more specificly to what can prevent mankind from having a future in space ….and uncontrolable Population Growth must be the favorite .
    Right now food production and other tecnologies is easily outpacing the negative effects of population growth , and the general growth of world population seems to be slowing down , but do we really have any reason to believe this will go on AUTOMATICLY until a stable population is reached ?
    I dont think so , because this would be in contradiction to the basic rules of evolution itself : In our time , where food and livingspace are temporarlily abundant (relatively) , any sub-group of humanity ,( whether etnic , cultural , religious or other ) that can and will go on breeding uncontrolled , will establish for itself an evolutionary advantage , which eventually wil make it a majority …..and then it gets MUCH worse …
    A beginning to this is in happening already today , where the populations of some european nations are beginning to grow again after decades of stability .
    This growth-mecanism comes for humans in two layers , the cultural which is superfast and the genetic which could take many generations to get anywhere . The genetic layer (sex) has been almost neutralized by the invention of birthcontrol measures , but again it would be unrealistic to believe Evolution has put all its eggs in a single sex-basket ….We humans have other connections with our evolutionary past which can be used by evolution , when it selects for faster breeding ….such as the nesting instinct

    • Antonio July 7, 2018, 15:44

      “and uncontrolable Population Growth must be the favorite”

      C’mon… don’t repeat the myth. We are facing just the opposite, and for quite a long time now. Birth rates have been decreasing non-stop since the Industrial Revolution and we are barely above replacement rate now, worldwide. Most probably, in a decade we will be below it and with no hope for it to go up.


      • ole burde July 8, 2018, 11:33

        C’mon , try to keep an open mind !
        What is most likely inside a relevant timeframe , a civilisation-killing asteroid impact ,or the emergence of RESISTANCE in a living species to something that prevents it from breeding in its normal pace ? Is it wise to believe humans are easily disconnected from the evolutionary laws governing all other living species ?

        • Antonio July 8, 2018, 14:12

          We are disconnected since we started carving stones, making fire and talking.

          The link I provided clearly explains and demonstrates why birth rates are decreasing since the Industrial Revolution, and its causes aren’t going to dissapear unless we are in the apocalyptic scenario of the article, but then the worries about overpopulation will be pointless, of course.

        • Antonio July 8, 2018, 17:51

          “Suppose you are a chef, cooking soup for two hundred diners. You say to yourself ‘Well, I know if I put arsenic in this soup it’ll kill everyone. But hey! Gotta be open-minded!’ And you go ahead and add the deadly metalloid to the goats’ cheese crostini and float it atop the watercress and mint broth. Are you being open-minded or… just ignoring important information?”

  • xcalibur July 7, 2018, 6:58

    Preserving information is of great importance. Ideally, we won’t be earthbound for long, and we’ll avoid any cataclysmic events in the meantime. However, it is important to take precautions, so that even in a severe case, the rebound would be much faster. Even if all goes well, making records for a long time-frame is a worthy endeavor. After all, there are many lost texts from Classical Antiquity, and how much richer would we be if we had them?

    There are a number of factors to consider: durability, vandalism (intentional and unintentional), amount and type of information that can be inscribed, how it can be read, and what information is worthwhile.

    Preferably, artifacts should be built out of strong materials that do not easily degrade. We’ve made some progress on this front (Millenniata Discs), but more should be done. Data rot is a pressing issue, and digital storage in particular tends to have a brief shelf-life. Even for materials that resist decay, we must consider weathering, erosion, sunlight, cosmic rays, mold/lichens, humidity, fire, earthquakes, and so on. These difficulties vary by location (eg desert vs mountains) and by whether the artifact is above or below ground.

    Vandalism is always a threat, as anyone on Wikipedia (or other wikis) will tell you. Intentional vandalism could be prevented by
    1. making artifacts difficult to access, since vandals tend to have short attention spans, and
    2. ensure they are lacking in precious metals, which tend to be stripped and melted down in difficult times.
    Unintentional vandalism occurs when people work with artifacts in good faith, but cause damage due to wrong methods. iirc a number of fossils and artifacts were damaged by sloppy, forceful methods used in the past. Perhaps artifacts could be designed to minimize this threat.

    As for information, one could store plenty using a technology like Millenniata Discs, however, these require computers to read them, raising the barrier to entry. Analog technology such as records and film reels have an advantage in access, but they’re more limited in size, scope, and efficiency. We should probably have a mix of large archives and artifacts with a small amount of very important data. This leads to the next question, what should be archived? Without going off on a long tangent, I think we should preserve significant information pertaining to science, arts, and humanities, as well as the mundane. Our selectiveness would be influenced by both the significance and size of data. Video footage takes up far more space than text, so I would be more generous in archiving Wikipedia than Youtube. However, concerns for economy could be overruled by a high enough degree of significance.

    Finally, an all-important concept for archiving: redundancy, redundancy, redundancy. By duplicating data across multiple artifacts and archives, this better ensures its survival. Not only should there be many copies, but these copies should be distributed widely to different parts of the globe, and ideally to locations off-earth. As mentioned earlier, environmental hazards vary according to location, and whether the artifact is above or below ground; storing artifacts in a variety of settings far apart would minimize risk. Off-world artifacts have added advantages:
    1. a high barrier to entry (spaceflight, etc) should prevent vandalism,
    2. avoidance of Earth’s environmental hazards (humidity, earthquakes, etc), while increased hazards such as cosmic rays should be manageable,
    3. such artifacts would stand as a monument to our civilization, proving that humans travelled through space.

  • Zanstel July 7, 2018, 8:41

    I think that the bigger risky of destruction of the information is the human itself. Humans don’t insterested in the info, or even opposed (think on cults), or that only sell the info and later one of the cults buy and destroy…
    These are the biggest risks.

    I think that one of the best places are hidden or very difficult places to reach. Mostly caves. Caves has very interesting properties. Are risky, but attracts adventures and people that like knowledge. The places may be even reached only though underwater paths.

    These places are less prone to be destroyed, just because is expensive and easy to hide so even cults could have interest on maintain hide if they discovered (if is a “power” thing), instead of destruct them.

    For a very different and too primitive culture, we can’t use writing directly. We should show the same we use with babies. Images. A lot of repetition of pictograms allows the people to link the word or symbol into the actual concept, so you can explain your language just in the same way that we teach ourselves.
    At least, enough pictograms to put the base of the learning and turn later into writing… later into more and more advanced forms of information, turning later into digital form into a denser and denser places to store as much info as we can.
    So… start info -> pictograms to language, basic knowledge -> writing + pictures + intermediate knowledge, advanced knownledge -> digital form (explained how to reach to this point in intermediate).
    The problem is that so much information is not a simple object. I think it’s better places, temples of knowledge, well hidden and protected, and for some of them, put maps in visible places to find them.
    How to build so durable places? I don’t know, but we should work on it.

  • Kelvin Long July 7, 2018, 10:07

    Hiro; I agree, which is why we need to become a multi-planetary species.

    Project Studio: Totally agree on the transmission of wisdom. How would you show wisdom versus knowledge on such an artefact? Can you give an example?

    Robin Datta: You raise a very good point. This suggests we need levels of information for different phases of technological civilizations.

    Alex Tolley: I agree knowledge of evolution and natural selection is important, it took us such a long time to learn that. Probably pictograms would be a good way to explain that as you suggest. I am not sure about colours however. If you look at many of the ancient artefacts, they have lost their colour over time due to weathering or oxidation. I would worry this brings in a potential deterioration mechanism for information.

    Rob Flores: As suggested in the article, there are indications that homo sapiens ‘may’ be much older than the 130,000 years you cite. This would therefore only accentuate the good point you make.

    Nate: I like the idea, but how long would the silica wafers survive? Another idea we might consider could be like a Russian Matryoshka Doll configuration to the artefact with levels of information nesting; the more you look, the more you advance, and the more you can see….which then becomes exponential in terms of growth. I like this idea a lot, but I also worry about the complexity of it. If the Apkallu initiative proceeds, one of the issues we will have is the cost of the project, and that will set a limit on what can be realistically achieved. There will be trade-offs, and this may also include information content.
    Another issue I worry about is moving parts, I would prefer a static object. I take lessons from what I call the Arthur C Clarke 4th law which is that “the perfect machine has no moving parts” (Imperial Earth).

    Robin Datta: You raise a good point that we may need some level of testing on the information, before it is set to stone. This will help to guide its completion. I guess we could adopt a trials group based approach?

    Old burde: I agree it is not a plan B. I agree this is really just a plan Z. In total agreement. Hopefully, we are doing all the other ones in between? I think my main concern is that I see all those Plan B, C, D….being pushed by industry (i.e. SpaceX, Blue Origin….) and very little leadership being shown on back-up plans from central governments. I am sure they must have confidential contingency plans as a part of federal policy, but what about the rest of us?
    What is your evidence that population growth is slowing down? Current projections put us around 9 billion by 2050 from my reading. But I have not read widely on this so I would be interested in your source for slowing down.

    Xcalibur: I agree with all the risks you cite to the artefact survivability over long term, which is why I want to build maybe 1,000 of them and distribute them into different locations around the world and into different climates. I am playing the statistics game of trying to improve the probability that some will survive. Of course, there is another statistics game which is the probability of finding it. Both issues need careful thought. All your other comments are very well received although further convince me that a stone artefact is the right approach.

    Zanstell: all good comments, but there is a trade-off between our ability to hide something to prevent it being damaged and our later ability to find it. I know this from being at home, sometimes I hide my car keys from my daughters, and then I forget where I put them.

    • Project Studio July 8, 2018, 12:04

      Often the transmission of Wisdom is attempted through symbolism, sometimes through symbols taken to be ‘universals.’ I’m not sure how universal such symbols are however. Consider the Buddhist cross as an example of a symbol which had its meaning effectively nullified and reversed.
      A woodcut often attributed, incorrectly, to Giordano Bruno captures something of his wisdom: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/outthere/files/2014/03/universe-and-man-larger.png
      But concrete knowledge, such as the geometric proof of the Pythagorean Theorem, would be simpler to inscribe on a small artifact: http://mathandmultimedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/pythagrean41.png
      Mankind waited a long time for the inspiration of agriculture, weaving of cloth, the wheel, the lever, the canoe, the Aretisian well, suspension bridges, the steam engine, etc. Practical wisdom might be transmitted by wrapping technical knowledge in a context that informs the recipient of the consequence of its misuse.

    • xcalibur July 9, 2018, 2:13

      Yes, probability of discovery is another relevant concern. Just as I’d distribute the artifacts widely, and give them varying amounts of information, I would also give variance to ease of discovery. In other words, some artifacts would be easy to find, others would be well hidden. It could follow a bell curve, with a few out in the open, a few extremely well concealed, and most in between.

      While there should be worldwide distribution, I’d like to add that Antarctica in particular would make a good location for ‘low discovery/high security’ artifacts. There is a fairly high barrier to entry, and it is unlikely to be disturbed by social chaos. It’s also a cold desert, with a lack of rain/humidity and very limited wildlife, which is helpful for preservation.

    • Alex Tolley July 9, 2018, 11:47

      I am not sure about colours however. If you look at many of the ancient artefacts, they have lost their colour over time due to weathering or oxidation. I would worry this brings in a potential deterioration mechanism for information.

      I envisage using more sophisticated technology to create these liths than crude metal carving tools and paint. Inserting colored minerals or metals would ensure colorfast objects. If color is to be ruled out, used shapes or texture, or some other way to identify different objects. (Didn’t we do a lot of this before color printing in scientific journals?)

  • Thomas R Mazanec July 7, 2018, 12:11
    • xcalibur July 9, 2018, 2:17

      I’m not surprised. To my understanding, the only pre-Columbian contacts with the Americas were the Norse (definitely) and the Polynesians (probably). As Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

  • Antonio July 7, 2018, 15:56

    I’m thinking that preserving science only as a set of knowledge has the risk of it becoming like a cargo cult. After all, science is not knowledge but a method to obtain knowledge. So, instead of being like an encyclopedia or cheatsheet, the artefact should be more like a problem book, going from the easiest to the more difficult, carefully chosen so that the readers develop their reasoning, develop an experimental method, etc. For example, many chess manuals are like that, the student learns by solving problems, not by reading a set of theories and advices.

    • xcalibur July 9, 2018, 2:23

      Yes, dogmatic ideology has a way of cropping up, and the artifacts should be designed against this. They should emphasize the scientific method, free speech, logic and reason. Designing it as a problem book is an interesting solution, although if we take that approach, it should include plenty of hints so as to not be discouraging.

    • ljk July 9, 2018, 12:59

      The descendants on the multigenerational starship in Robert Heinlein’s science fiction novel Orphans of the Sky were there so long – and with a little help from a mutiny that killed most of the crew and separated the control room of the ship from the rest of the populace – that they no longer realized they were on a ship. Instead they thought their vessel was the entire Universe.

      Note to future WorldShip builders: Make LOTS of windows!

      Science, science texts, and the mission objectives took on a religious dogma. Scientists were part of an elite priesthood who passed down their knowledge only to chosen acolytes. Ship functions once performed by the crew were now rituals without any grasp of their true meaning. When someone died, they were said to have made the Trip to Far Centaurus.

  • Kelvin Long July 7, 2018, 17:45

    Thomas R Mazanec: Thanks for the link, I read the account of the Fuente Magna bowl. I admit its possible this item was a fake, but I think far more analysis of it is required to reach a proper determination. I don’t think you can conclude your second bullet point based solely on that article, but instead only accept this is possible.

    Antonio: I love your idea of presenting it as a form of problem book for the purpose of teaching wisdom and reason. I think that’s an excellent suggestion. One of the concerns I have for the artefact is that it has a danger of becoming dogma to a future society that studied it – one can imagine a new religion forming based around the artefact, such that any new ideas which deviate from its teachings are considered heretical. Designing to avoid this is non-trivial.

  • Brett Bellmore July 7, 2018, 18:43

    I suppose you could embed highly weathering resistant artifacts in a controlled weathering material designed to look like ordinary stone, and place them in remote mountains, where they’re unlikely to be disturbed. They’d then be exposed at relatively predictable intervals over a geologic time frame. Start at the top with relatively coarse pictographs of elementary subject matter, and increasing detail and complexity as you went down the artifact, including periodic instructions on how to remove the cover without damage.

    Perhaps more immediately useful would be something like the Moties’ libraries in “The Mote in God’s Eye”; Very detailed technical libraries designed to survive cataclysmic wars, located in out of the way spots, and kept updated. I’m somewhat concerned that so much of our knowledge today is stored in rather ephemeral and not easily accessed forms, not even books anymore. Your average CD is going to be unreadable in just a few decades, even assuming you’ve got a drive capable of reading CDs, and the right software!

    Even a couple decades interruption in civilization would put much of our current knowledge out of reach. Even a Carrington event or something marginally worse would erase a lot of it.

  • Charley July 7, 2018, 20:16

    An interesting article (to say the very least) and certainly a brain teaser; how, oh, how does one take a time capsule with regards to its longevity and at the same time prevented from undergoing malicious destruction at the hands of (perhaps) maladaptive people ?

    And it suddenly dawned on me while I was reading some of the missives that were bandied about above in the comment section.
    We’re concerned about the fact that time capsules can be lost to history forever, but at the same time, the very fact that they ARE MISSING is a benefit to their survival.
    So in the interest of preserving history and keeping it out of the hands of mischief, let me propose the following as a possible solution, although I’m sure there can be plenty of holes punched in it with regards to its feasibility, etc. etc.
    Why not have some type of time capsule that can be loaded into a rocket and sent to strike a particular area, of say the moon, in which the time capsule strikes the moon and buries itself in the moon’s crust ? Now note that the capsule is designated for a specific regional area of the moon, that’s fairly large by geographic standards, but is not so impossibly large that it would be completely unfeasible to find it.
    Navigation nowadays is accurate enough that you can land something with a fair degree of precision, but by purposely putting in perhaps a small bias into your final ballistic (call it descent?) that it allows the time capsule to be effectively lost.
    In doing so, the capsule is misplaced to the extent that it is not immediately assessable for any type of mischief, but at the same time because you know that it landed within a relatively broad geographical area, it can be with some effort, located for its invaluable contents.
    If you really went off the deep end and assuming that you had a completely malicious power that for some reason was spent on the idea of completely destroying any past record of humanity, such as scheme would probably preemptively be self protected because not even nuking the surface of the moon could effectively (except by luck) find and destroy your precious time capsule.
    Notice too that the moon is relatively close and with common knowledge about the approximate locality on the moon and the fact that the item in question DOES exist would be a guarantor that something of humanity would survive even a cataclysm that possibly could engulf the Earth. How does this sound as a possible solution?

    • Charley July 7, 2018, 23:11

      In thinking further on this, I realized that there could be what I considered to be a slight problem. Oftentimes they can determine crash sites on the moon by seeing where newly disturbed material shows up in photographs taken from orbit around the moon. However, this may not be as great of a problem as you might think at first glance.
      Reason I say that is your time capsule/spacecraft could have built within its terminal velocity program a random number generator, which would at some predetermined time generate a vectored thrust which would be randomly generated to modify your terminal trajectory. Doing so, would permit you to vastly dispersed the possible impact point and help to thwart attempts to find the final impact point.
      Additionally, the time capsule/spacecraft could be of a long thin needle nose type of casing such that when it buries itself into the ground, it could minimally disturbed the surrounding material. Thus making identification from orbit far more difficult than it would be if allowed to hit with the less tapered spacecraft. I think that this is achievable in the interest of protecting this type of time capsule against any external influences.

  • Charley July 7, 2018, 20:24

    So much of what I read here borders on these, call it apocalyptic fantasies as well as this seemingly fun and games that come about with people always worrying about whether or not we’re going to survive as a species. Now I believe in the biblical version of events and I believe that it is our faith to meet whatever is in the Bible, but that is just my acceptance of God as God, so it is just one viewpoint.
    But if you take a deep dive into what appears to be possible in modern day technology, the results are seemingly quite bleak as to the myriad ways we can possibly destroy ourselves. It seems like total annihilation of humanity is a complete possibility, but I don’t think all life on earth can be snuffed out.
    The On the Beach Scenario played out in the fifties is completely ludicrous for many, many reasons, but if you couple that with the advance in biotechnology that now everybody seems to embrace with such wonder and apply it to bacteria and viruses, and then couple that with nuclear war, then I think we are looking at a humanity snuffer. In that case, if things get that bad, then it really won’t matter if we have a time capsule or not. Who would be around to read it ? At that point, the whole question is moot

    • Alex Tolley July 9, 2018, 11:41

      Humanity is too widespread to be completely eliminated. Pockets will survive, probably as an agricultural or hunter-gatherer society. The same applies to even a worst-case outcome of global warming.

      As we don’t know the survival outcome, it is a good insurance policy as it is relatively inexpensive.

  • Coacervate July 7, 2018, 20:34

    What an interesting and thought provoking thought. At the end of the movie “The Time Machine” the traveler’s friends discover that he has gone back to the future and 3 books are missing from his library. We are asked, “Which 3 would you have taken?”

    Urey’s “Quantum Mechanics” or perhaps better would be my Boy Scout Handbook? Goethe or Vonnegut? or Louis CK? In which direction should we point? Massive populations, mass consumption … what have we learned? I would send them the best essays on evolution and explain that we’ve only just left the jungle and we carry inside the rage of the beast, the capacity for ultimate destruction. Tame that first above all else. Succeed at that and then you will transcend to the next level. Oh now I’ve got it… send them Super Mario!

  • Gregor July 7, 2018, 22:54

    All this chatter about how to transmit information through time reminds me of this amusing approach.


  • Douglas Muir July 8, 2018, 10:54

    Kelvin Long asks:

    “With respect Sir, how do you account for ‘Oumuamua in 2017 and Asteroid 2018 GE3 this year, both of which were surprises to our Earth observers? How also do you explain Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and its impact with Jupiter in 1994? This suggests to me, that we know less than we think we do. Are you willing to take that risk?””

    How do I “explain” Shoemaker-Levy? There’s nothing to explain. It was spotted years before it hit Jupiter. It was not a Near-Earth Object. Its perihelion was far outside Earth’s orbit. It could never ever hit us.

    ‘Oumuamua was literally a one-in-a-million visitor — there are about a million asteroids and comets known, but only one interstellar one. So whatever the odds of an impact are, the the odds of being hit by an interstellar object are about one / one millionth as great. “One millionth of something that’s already super tiny” is not something to keep you awake nights.

    As for 2018 GE3, it was a NEO and it could have hit us, but *it was dinky*. I said we have spotted all the 2 km asteroids and 90% of the 1 km – 2 km asteroids. GE3 was less than 100m or 0.1 km across. If it had hit the Earth, it would have done only localized damage — and, of course, ~90% of the Earth’s surface has no people living on it.

    It’s as if I were to say “there’s no such thing as Bigfoot” and you were to say “well we JUST discovered a new species of orangutan in Borneo, how do you explain that, and also we found two new sorts of lichen in Oregon!” Oregon is a lot better surveyed than Borneo, and lichen isn’t a seven foot tall primate.

    Again: we have located and plotted all the potential civilization-ending NEOs, and most of the ones that would cause widespread destruction. Nothing big is going to hit us in the next century.

    This is known. It’s not even controversial. I don’t know why people keep pushing back.

    Doug M.

  • Craig Watkins July 8, 2018, 11:48

    I’m always in favor of these efforts. The more the better. So far, it doesn’t seem like a very costly one. But if a minilithic idea is going to work, I think we will need many thousands, possibly even millions of them to ensure that they will be found again. It should be roughly comparable finding an ancient arrowhead.
    I would ditch language and stick to mathematical, geometrical and cosmological information through pictograms if the goal is 100,000 years. The arabic numeral system, the concept of zero, pi to a few digits, and the awareness of our earth as spherical and revolving around the sun could accelerate a primitive society greatly, IMHO. A phonemic writing system would be awesome as well, but I’m skeptical about that being conveyed in a contextless, low-tech object.

  • Kelvin Long July 8, 2018, 13:29

    Brett Bellmore: I like the idea of high mountain tops. I would love to have one somewhere on Everest since that’s bound to be explored lots over the pending thousands of years ahead. Not keen on covers and instructions for opening them, I just see this as a potential failure mechanism. One idea someone had suggested at a recent lecture I gave was to surround the artefact in Amber. I liked that a lot too.

    Charley: Yes I do like the idea of placing some of these artefacts on the moon, and what came to my mind was the monolith from ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’. The artefact could even contain a magnetic centre so that it shows up as magnetic anomaly so it could be found by ground magnetometer measurements (i.e. TM-1). Of course, putting one in space or on the moon might place a constraint on the mass of the artefact since the launch costs (for a volunteer effort) could be prohibitively high. So in general I like the idea. This raises another (speculative) possibility of course, given my articles speculative suggestion of an earlier civilization: Could there be such an artefact on the Moon now?

    Coacervate: For me a key wisdom I would want to warn those future people about is that the maturation of technology which can be used for good or bad does not necessarily imply the wisdom to manage it. I think some technologies need time to be harmonized into human society, so that the implications of their introduction can be fully appreciated. That said, this has to be judged against the vital need to develop technologies that can solve key problems in society today. One example of this that is arguably in balance between these two perspectives is genetically modified foods.

    Douglas Muir: I respect your opinion, but I respectively disagree with it. Your statement is still one based on statistical probability, and given this I do not think you can be 100% confident. I do agree in a sense of perspective however and I am not up to date on what has been surveyed so you could be correct that the risk is really quite low. But to state “Nothing big is going to hit us in the next century” is a statement of absolute confidence, and unless you can predict the future (which I cannot) I do not think that is a statement you can make. You might be able to say “On the balance of probability, nothing big is likely to hit us in the next century to high confidence”.
    I think there is push back because of events like 2018 GE3 which as you admit yourself “it could have hit us”. But please don’t over focus on the impact idea. I know I made that the main ‘protagonist’ of my article, because I was trying to paint a picture for the reader, but this was really just a way of presenting the Apkallu initiative idea…..whatever the threats may be.
    Despite your reservations to the cited possible cause, would you see any value at all from the construction of such an artefact or is your opinion this is a waste of time? I would be interested to know your view. Thanks. It could be argued that it has more artistic value than scientific.

    Craig Watkins: I love your idea of the number of artefacts being approximately equivalent to an ancient arrowhead. Before committing to the numbers of artefacts I think it would be useful to conduct some research of historical archaeological artefacts and then use that information to inform the minimum number one must produce to give a good probability of them being found. If the number turns out to be absurdly large (like 1 million) then the other option is to focus on the construction of one artefact but make it a part of our culture so that knowledge of it (and its content) is past down the generations in a similar way to Native American stories.

    Another reservation I have had about this project that is worth sharing, and that is the evolution of our science. So for example today we have the wave/particle duality model of physics, but there are alternative models we are exploring such as loop quantum gravity and string theory and M theory and others. What if the physics of the future turns out to be very different to our (albeit high order) approximations today? Essentially you would be passing on a flawed model of reality to the future. However, the way I see it, it has the potential to at least advance that new society to the same level you were at when you become near-extinct.

    • Project Studio July 8, 2018, 18:45

      One can imagine transmission of flawed models like the Aristotelian laws of motion could actually hold back the advancement of a primitive society. One strategy to transmit accurate knowledge would be to only include that which has been tried and tested over many generations. Nothing ‘learned’ over the last century would qualify. Considering the aim of your project, a century of technical progress is nothing compared with fundamental progress that would take millennia without a boot-strap.

      • Antonio July 9, 2018, 17:59

        “Nothing ‘learned’ over the last century would qualify.”

        On the contrary. The most well validated part of science is quantum physics, that’s barely a century old.

        • Project Studio July 10, 2018, 9:39

          “The most well validated part of science is quantum physics” Which convention of Quantum Theory are you referring to? We may already have entered a paradigmatic cul-de-sac.

  • Doctor Mist July 8, 2018, 16:06

    I’m not sure I understand the idea of placing these on the Moon or atop Mt Everest. Surely by the time the survivors have reached these places, they will have already learned anything Apkallu can tell them.

    • Zanstel July 9, 2018, 6:10

      I agree… partialy. One goal could be allow to reboot the civilization. Obviously, a space place don’t help in that goal.
      But another could be simply to record history, help in some other areas where they couldn’t be so advanced or simply they could invent on other way.
      So, in that purpose… put the info in space could help a lot.

      I could add this to my previous idea. Perhaps, we should separate the level of info, into different places. As I said previously, different level of info (basic, intermediate, advanced) require different ways of comunication. (pictograms, writing, digital data), being intermediate probably the best info of all, because advanced could use very dense ways to store the data, and basic is small in quantity (although pictograms is the most inneficient way to storage).
      We could put maps and/or clues inside the each level to reach the next.

      Space places are, by default, advanced data. It has no sense to use other ways of storage for a society capable of advanced mathematics required to launch rockets. Perhaps only add some pictograms like an image next to other smaller, next to other smaller… up to very dense levels so you suggest that there is this way of data stored plus some non-compressed (but dense anyway) so it can be interpreted without help of previous levels, only if you have enough knowledge by yourselves (as we could did on our 1950)

      Collect the data for advanced will be the biggest data effort. But build the intermediate places will be probably the most expensive (because its size). Like a gigant library write on stone.

      The kind of artifest the author talk here sounds more like basic and/or advanced, without the intermediate level. But I see that without the intermediate level it will be very difficult for a primitive society to learn from them.

  • Charley July 8, 2018, 22:20

    While reading comments again, a really fantastic thought came to me which I could have extreme potential if you want to talk about life-saving and civilization saving technologies.
    Everybody remember ‘the Bicentennial Man’ ?? A robot that was so advanced that it could take care of so many drudgery and mundane task that now days completely eat up our time.
    Why not, develop such robots, and allow them to go release on the surface of the earth and/or in spacecraft-either into free space or upon some planetary surfaces and if disaster hits us. They could come back and easily communicate with us as well as do a large portion of the work for us to rebuild civilization ??
    volla’ instant civilization in the can ! So to speak. If we concentrated their efforts in the intensive way we could actually construct such robots and such robots in and of themselves would be extremely useful to us in the here and now; not to mention when we are in a crunch and we need all the help we can get.
    I must say I have to pat myself on the back, for thinking of only relatively elegant solution to something that will endure and at the same time help us when we are in most need of help.

    • ljk July 9, 2018, 9:35

      Charley said on July 8, 2018, 22:20:

      “Why not, develop such robots, and allow them to go release on the surface of the earth and/or in spacecraft-either into free space or upon some planetary surfaces and if disaster hits us. They could come back and easily communicate with us as well as do a large portion of the work for us to rebuild civilization ??”

      Assuming these knowledge-spewing robots are not received as either monsters to attack or gods to worship, depending on how bad the post-destruction situation is on Earth.

      How would you design these robots to be received in the way they were intended by their makers to a future humanity that may be little better than Stone Age barbarians?

      • Charley July 9, 2018, 15:15

        Scarcely a difficult problem; these robots would be self repairing, and furthermore, you would have continuous broadcast from earth until a potential disaster had struck.
        When the robotic servants detected that the continuous broadcasting on earth was disrupted in any appreciable degree, they would immediately begin to proceed toward earth and begin the search for survivors wherever they could find them.
        I’m not talking about robotics or robots that would be thousands or millions of light-years away, but might be dispersed widely among the planets and asteroids of our own solar system, but only the robots themselves would know where they were at. That would prevent anyone from going out and potentially destroying them if they had malicious intent.

        Since they would not be at a great distance from us, it is reasonable to assume that survivors of any catastrophe would not have lost connection with the idea of technology are technological basis of their previous civilization. And they would be aware of the fact that robotic helpers would be on their way to render assistance to them. Imagine the possibilities! These robotic assistances would have an immediately at their fingertips all the information required to rebuild the previous civilization as well as being able to pitch in and take care of so many of the particular problems that we would be facing. Obviously I’m talking about having a virtual robotic army, which could multiply itself off world and would be a readily available.
        We don’t need anything as drastic as a catastrophe to have such robotic assistants, even in our daily lives; check out the company, Boston dynamics, which is even now making a tremendous amount of advancement in exactly the type of machines that I’ve been talking about…

        • ljk July 10, 2018, 9:42

          I am glad you think that long-lived self-repairing robots in space are an easy thing to do. :^)

    • Alex Tolley July 9, 2018, 11:36

      Sort of the role R. Giskard and R, Daneel Olivaw had in the later Foundation and Robots novels by Asimov.

      The problems for this proposal is two-fold:
      1. Developing such robots is very hard. Better to wait for them to be developed for industrial tasks and then use them, whenever that happens.
      2. Robots will not last 100,000 years. A robot civilization will need to be developed to ensure longevity.

      • Charley July 9, 2018, 15:24

        Well of course it’s hard !! That’s what makes it so much even more imperative that we proceed at warp speed to construct just such robotic servants ! We should not dawdle, and wait for some kind of miracle to come along and save us! This is something we’re going to have to do ourselves, and we can better start doing a double quick, not only will robots help us in the event of a catastrophe, but they could very well revolutionize life here on earth!

        As for your second opinion that robots won’t last 100,000 years; well, so what ? We don’t need a robot that will last 100,000 years we can have robots of that construct other robots in perpetuity and are ready at a moment’s notice when we need them. See above, my answer on just such the question on whether or not these robotic assistants will be immediately available in the event of a catastrophe. I think you’ll find it pretty enlightening.
        Robots make a lot more sense than stone tablets where the survivors have to deal with so many other problems.
        All the problems they have to deal with right then and there they don’t really have time to sit down and play scholar and try to decipher this and that so that they can survive. Better to have your survival tool take care of you, rather than having to take care of your survival tool; plus, on the very positive side, your survival tool can actually help you SURVIVE !!

  • Roger July 9, 2018, 8:04

    What if you send a bunch of archive objects on a Solar orbit, with a probability to return to Earth in the future, such that they rain back to earth at a useful rate. They wouldn’t all be found, but enough would such that civilisation can be insured. What if humanity died out and another future evolved intelligent species found one of these objects? Bootstrapping a future earth intelligence would still be a worthwhile goal.
    And what if humanity became Interstellar? Should we seed each terrestrial planet we visit with a few archive objects? Our ideas seeded throughout time and the Galaxy. What would we make of an alien archive object we found on another planet?
    Stars explode, Libraries burn, ideas remain.
    Have to include some poignant poems in our archive objects.

  • ljk July 9, 2018, 9:27

    If you want an idea of how and why our civilization could degrade and not due to either a nuclear war or impact from space, see the 2006 science fiction film Idiocracy, which is starting to turn into prophecy far sooner than its timeline predicted:


  • ljk July 9, 2018, 10:57

    Ever hear of the nuclear-powered Russian lighthouses…


    What do they have to do with the theme of the main article? Read this quote from the above linked article:

    Then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the unattended automatic lighthouses did it job for some time, but after some time they collapsed too. Mostly as a result of the hunt for the metals like copper and other stuff which were performed by the looters. They didn’t care or maybe even didn’t know the meaning of the “Radioactive Danger” sign and ignored them, breaking in and destroying the equipment. It sounds creepy but they broke into the reactors too causing all the structures to become radioactively polluted.

    Those photos are from the trip to the one of such structures, the most close to the populated areas of the Russian far east. Now, there are signs “RADIOACTIVITY” written with big white letters on the approaching paths to the structure but they don’t stop the abandoned exotics lovers.

  • Douglas Muir July 9, 2018, 11:09

    “Your statement is still one based on statistical probability, and given this I do not think you can be 100% confident… to state “Nothing big is going to hit us in the next century” is a statement of absolute confidence,”

    — Very high confidence. We know that we’ve spotted almost all of the large objects that could possibly hit us. We /know/ this.

    Here’s an analogy. Suppose I’m indoors and I don’t know what the weather is. I want to go outside and walk to the store, a distance of about 1 km or half a mile over open ground. What are my odds of being hit by lightning? Well, if I don’t know what the weather is, there’s a very small but real chance I might get hit by lightning, because it might be raining. One in a million perhaps? Small, but it could happen.

    But now let’s say I *do* know the weather, and it’s clear without a cloud in the sky. Now, it is still theoretically possible I could get hit by lightning — lightning from a clear sky is very very rare, but it is not entirely impossible. But now the odds are much lower; more like one in a trillion, perhaps. I can walk to the store with a very high degree of confidence, and I’ll feel pretty comfortable saying that I won’t get hit by lightning.

    “I think there is push back because of events like 2018 GE3 which as you admit yourself “it could have hit us”.”

    We’ll never get all the little stuff, because there’s a crazy lot of little stuff. But 100m impactors are not going to end civilization. Here’s another analogy: we were worried about wild animals. So we’ve located and put tracker tags on all the neighborhood tigers and 90% of the wolves. That doesn’t mean a raccoon might not still get into our garbage.

    That said, we’re going to catch a lot of raccoons too over the next little while. Our asteroid detection is only getting better. By the 2030s, it will be difficult for even a 100m object to sneak up on us like that.

    “Despite your reservations to the cited possible cause, would you see any value at all from the construction of such an artefact or is your opinion this is a waste of time? I would be interested to know your view. Thanks. It could be argued that it has more artistic value than scientific.”

    I’d agree with that argument. In addition to all the usual problems with Long Now artifacts, it also would have to involve heroic assumptions about the level of knowledge available to a hypothetical future civilization.

    Doug M.

    • Antonio July 9, 2018, 16:44

      Yeah, I agree with you. I’ll not hold my breath for an extinction-class impact in this century.

    • AlexT July 10, 2018, 2:20

      Dough M. my respects to your opinion.

  • Triffin July 9, 2018, 13:19

    Leave detailed instructions on how to generate electricity
    and show/tell what it was used for ..

    • ljk July 10, 2018, 9:39

      Physicist Richard Feynman said if he could leave only one simple message to future generations in case society collapsed, it would be that everything is made up of atoms.

  • ljk July 9, 2018, 13:19

    Speaking of giant stone monuments, did you know that Mount Rushmore has a hidden room dedicated to explaining to future generations who those four faces are and why someone would go to all the trouble of carving them on such a massive scale into the side of a mountain: