On January 6, 2015, an audience of academics, journalists and politicians looked on in rapt silence as conservators from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts carefully opened up a heavily corroded metal box. “It was like brain surgery, with history looking down on us,” Malcolm Rogers, the museum’s director, told CNN. So where had this box come from? And just why was there so much anticipation surrounding its opening?
Time capsules – which typically contain items such as newspapers, public records and works of art – are intended to help future generations understand the lives of those who created them. And while nobody knows exactly when the wider practice began, the earliest known time capsules seem to date to the 19th century.
Remarkably, though, the ten-pound metal box opened in Boston in 2015 actually pre-dates that period. In fact, the capsule is the oldest ever uncovered in the United States. Known as the Samuel Adams and Paul Revere Time Capsule, it is thought to have been deposited away from sight in 1795 – 20 years after the start of the American War of Independence and eight years before Britain formally recognized U.S. sovereignty.