Re: [LEAPSECS] how posterity will measure time

From: Rob Seaman <seaman_at_noao.edu>
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2006 09:41:22 -0700

On Dec 4, 2006, at 4:19 AM, Poul-Henning Kamp wrote:

> Although, likely as not, when some future arkćologist finds the
> inscriptions he will look at them without any formal training in
> any kind of physics or natural science and conclude that "they
> probably have religious significance" which is the default
> explanation in that branch of history.

Many inscriptions from the last millennium do have religious
significance, of course.

Current archeology involves a goodly amount of both high and low tech
natural knowledge, from ground penetrating radar to a deep
familiarity with the life cycles of various large and small
scavengers and decomposers. Archeologists also benefit from being
familiar with the subjects of their investigations. That nothing
much is known about the builders of Stonehenge and other neolithic
sites isn't the fault of the archeologists – they've done wonders
with diverse cultures from Rome to Maya to Colonial America. (The
perennial questions of grave robbing and treasure hunting seem
peripheral to the current discussion.) Future archeologists, short
of a "discontinuity" major enough to recycle a large fraction of the
Earth's crust, will have vast and detailed information to work with
regarding our civilization. It's also hard to imagine that they
won't be motivated to do a good job of interpreting the semiotics of
the detritus of our fallen world girdling civilization. More shame
on us, but perhaps we'll at least be able to serve as a good object
lesson to our gill-breathing, three-eyed, land-flounder descendants.

The existence of archeologists, of course, implies a civilization of
a certain level of sophistication. The inscriptions on the WIPP
aren't intended for educated readers like archeologists, but rather
as a big "Yuck!" sign as used on children's medications. Any group
of hunter-gatherers who stumble on WIPP and think to raid it as they
will likely have been raiding landfills and other fin de millénaire
treasure troves, will first have to pass the threshold of being
capable of gaining physical entry. If they are skilled enough to do
this, they are skilled enough to make some simple astronomical
observations (assuming the stars are still visible through the
cesspool we will have made of the atmosphere). One imagines the
corpses of previous diggers will serve as an even better warning sign
for the successive neolithic survivors of repeated discontinuities.
A hundred centuries is a long time.

The PP in WIPP stand for Pilot Project. The point of a pilot project
is to teach something to current engineers, archeologists and other
scientists, the public, and maybe, just maybe – to a few politicians.

I'd vote, myself, for using a subduction zone for this purpose,
although having a goal of launching our waste into the Sun might
serve to invigorate the space program for a few decades.

Rob Seaman
NOAO
Received on Mon Dec 04 2006 - 10:01:18 PST

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