Crypt of Civilization is the third episode of season two of Life After People: The Series. It originally aired on January 19, 2010.
1 DAY AFTER PEOPLE - On the campus of Oglethorpe University, in Atlanta, Georgia, there is a small X carved in stone. Buried a few feet underneath, is a forgotten crypt, filled with strange relics of mankind that wait to be rediscovered. Mannequins stare with painted eyes into the dark, as if they're waiting. Waiting for people to open the nearby cans of newsreels. Waiting for human hands to open the violin case in the corner. Or touch the keys of the typewriter. These fashion manequins stand at a bizzare intersection between the immortal, and the forgotten. Waiting to be released from one the world's strangest rooms, a time capsule called the Crypt of Civilization. Every day objects from toasters to dental floss rest in steel cylinders filled with inert gas. Microfilms of 800 books, including the Qu'ran, and the works of Shakespeare remain next to lipstick tubes, cigarette lighters, radios, the screenplay of Gone With The Wind. All objects carefully chosen to represent life in the 1930's. The Crypt was conceived in 1936, by the university's president, Thornwell Jacobs. Inspired by recent excavations of egyptian burial chambers. He wanted to create a 20th century version of King Tut's tomb. The objects in the crypt wait behind a stainless steel plate, one eighth of an inch thick, with instructions not to open the crypt until the year 8113. But can this crypt endure 6000 more years?
2 DAYS AFTER PEOPLE - All of man's attempts to preserve his legacy are in a battle against time. At Washigton D.C.'s Marine Corps War Memorial, 6 bronze heroes of the WW2 battle of Iwo Jima, still raise the american flag. The memorial was based on a photographic image of heroism so moving, people wanted it to be immortalized. Not in fading celluloid, but in bronze. But with no people to remember the battle or protect the monument, how long will the marines continue to hoist the flag?
32 miles away, in Annapolis, lies the crypt of a revolutionary war hero: naval legend John Paul Jones. But what few knew, was that this ornate crypt was not Jones' first resting place. Largely forgotten after the Revolutionary War, he was buried by a few friends, and left in an unmarked grave for a 100 years. In 1905, Jones' lead coffin was found and opened for an autopsy. The doctors expected to see the mocking grin of a skeleton. Instead, what the doctors saw shocked them. Although partially decomposed, John Paul Jones was preserved enough to be recognizable from 18th century busts. How was this possible? The answer: hoping Jones would some day be rediscovered, his friends had his coffin filled with methyl alcohol. John Paul Jones was reburied with fresh methyl alcohol, in a tomb in Annapolis, Maryland, a quarter mile from shore. But doesn't a naval hero deserve a burial at sea?
4 DAYS AFTER PEOPLE - At Marine Corp War Base Pendleton in Southern California, some marines remain on duty. German sheperds who were part of the US marines canine core, are now without superior officers. But they remember their years of intense training. Now, the more aggressive alfa males uncaged when their masters vanished, go AWOL, following orders from a new commanding officer: hunger. But outsider Pendleton, the sheperds will not be the only predators. What will happen when hungry coyotes meet the last marines?
Meanwhile, some attempts to preserve man's legacy race against time by standing still. This CD sized object holds the key to preserving mankind's written languages. Created in 2008 by an organization called the Long Now Foundation, it is etched with micro sized writings. When magnified 1000 times, it reveals 13 thousand pages of text. From vocabulary lists, to Bible verses, in more than 1500 human languages. It was named after the Rosetta Stone, an ancient artifact which enabled researchers to decode egyptian hieroglyphics. Copies of the Rosetta Disk were sent to safe havens around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution, where thousands of other treasures are stored. Now, the lights have gone out. Can this modern Rosetta Stone actually survive?
While the ancients preserved vital objects and great leaders behind walls of stone, modern office buildings of steel and glass are crypts of information. In the time of humans, one third of most office buildings was devoted to storing papers, from personnel files, to government secrets. This was true from the canyons of Wall Street, to London's financial district, where the most notable building was the 591 foot tower, nicknamed the Gherkin. It's 745 double layers of glass panels, let in so much natural light, the costs of heating and lighting the building were drastically reduced. Shortly after it was completed in 2003, one panel came loose and shattered over 300 feet below. In the time of humans, a maintenance crew of 90 kept the Gherkin in good shape. In a life after people, how long before another panel falls, and another?
1 WEEK AFTER PEOPLE - There's trouble on the high seas. This cargo ship was carrying 30 thousand tons of wheet. The crew is gone, but the ship is not quite abandoned. The rats have taken over. In the time of humans, ship's crew's battled rats with traps and poisons. But those days are over. A large rat of 12 or 13 ounces can eat 15% of it's body weight in a day. But the rats won't just eat, they'll also breed. Female rats can have 6 littlers in a year, with perhaps a dozen rats in each litter. And at the age of only 3 months, the young rats are themselves ready to breed.
As vermin take over the world's shiping lanes, on the land architectural wonders fall prey to hidden flaws, while a strange time capsule tries to preserve the memory of man 870 miles above the Earth.
6 MONTHS AFTER PEOPLE - In Washington D.C., the bronze Iwo Jima marines remain undamaged, but the poliester flag was subject to fading in the sun, and had to be changed once a month by an honor guard. In 1961, John F. Kennedy directed that the 190 square foot banner on the 60 foot flag pole, should be flown day and night, forever, to help people remember the courage and sacrifice at Iwo Jima. Now, half a year of sun, wind and rain have torn the flag to shreds. And one gusty afternoon, the presidential proclamation is overwritten by a harsh wind.
1 YEAR AFTER PEOPLE - In just 12 months, a pair of rats can produce 2000 offspring. The green, greedy rats on the cargo ship have experienced a population explosion. The dark hold of the ship has become a moving wave of hungry, breeding rodents. The rats' need for half an ounce of water a day has been satisfied by rainwater. But there's a problem. With no humans to work the bilge pumps, the cargo ship is taking on water in the middle of the ocean. As sea water saturates the grain, thousands of rats flee to the upper decks, but this is one sinking ship they can''t desert.
Around the world, man's attempts to measure the passage of time are fading away. With the power went out, electric clocks went dark forever. The batteries in some wrist watches may last for 3 years or more, but they too will stop. But what about a clock that won't stop? At least, not for 10,000 years. To create a clock that will keep accurate time for 10,000 years, Hillis designed a 60 foot tal machine made of corrosion resistant titanium and stainless steel. The sun will keep the mechanical clock accurate, at noon, solar heat focused through a lent, will make a strip of tungsten buckle, and this motion resets the clock to exactly noon. To guarantee precise measurement of time over 100 centuries, the clock uses a sofisticated system of levers and pins, that perform binary calculations.
2 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - The coyotes that prowl the wild landscape that was once Camp Pendleton have learned to fear the strength of the last marines. Unlike most dogs kept as pets in the time of humans, many military trained german sheperds have survived.
Meanwhile, in the open ocean, the hungry rats have turned on each other. Now, every one is dead, of starvation or cannibalism, and their bodies are food for the hungry sea birds.
5 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - All is quiet at the world's largest library. The Library Of Congress in Washington D.C. contains nearly 142 billion items, on roughly 650 miles of shelves, including Mathew Brady's Civil War photographs, and the personal affects Abraham Lincoln was carrying on the day he was shot. All of this is a little consequence to the swamp creatures now returning to this former capital of man.
10 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - The once manicured grounds of Oglethorpe University are choking under kudzu and wild poinsettia. But the granite buidling holding the Crypt of Civilization still stands secure. The crypt itself, surrounded by Georgia bedrock, was reinforced to survive the centuries by scientists, who strengthened the cement floor of an 200 square foot indoor swimming pool, and waterproofed the walls with layers of porcelain. After the crypt was sealed in 1940, some 20,000 other time capsules were buried around the world. When the publicity died, most were quickly forgotten and lost. For a while, this even happended to the crypt itself. Now, forgotten again, nothing much has changed inside the crypt. When it's creator, doctor Thornwell Jacobs was chosing items to place inside, he was sure to include a vial of beer, specially brewed and bottled by Anheuser-Busch. Jacobs thought that even 6000 years from now, whoever opened the crypt would still enjoy a foamy brew.
20 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Not all time capsules are intended to remain on Earth. In the early 21st century, Europe's KEO satellite was designed to orbit the planet, carrying a DVD with thousands of e-mail messages from people around the world to the remote future. While the Crypt of Civilization was inspired by the first calendar, KEO looked to an even earlier landmark of civilization. Therefore, the KEO was scheduled to return to Earth to be opened 500 centuries after it's launch, having completed almost 300 million orbits. At 870 miles high, it's out of the path of most other satellites and space debris. But while an astro accident is unlikely in the near term, what happens when it's time for KEO to plummet back to Earth?
There's no need to wait to find out the fate of this haunted place. And this hospital that once housed the criminally insane, a life after people has already begun.
40 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - There are some places on Earth where mankind made no attempt to preserve his memories. Places so horrible, it was better just to forget. One of these places still stands on a sprawling patch of land in southeastern Connecticut. Once, this was the Norwich mental hospital. It opened in 1904, and among it's patients were some of the worst criminally insane offenders in the state. Men like Ernest Skinner, a teenager who attacked his neighbor with an axe before setting him on fire. And Matthew Naab, who stabbed his 85 year old grandmother to death with scissors, because he thought she was possessed by the devil. It's no wonder then that many report strange happenings at the abandoned hospital. The souls here would have reason to be restless. Even for patients who weren't criminals, life at Norwich was a terrible ordeal. In the 1930s, Judith Riley's mother was a nurse at Norwich. Every day as she passed this building, she heard the screams of the criminally insane. In the 1970s, most of Norwich's criminally insane were transferred to Connecticut's prison system. The building that once held them was abandoned to everything but nature. At it's height, the Norwich mental hospital covered a thousand acres with 5000 staff and patients. The hospital had it's own farm and livestock, it's own power plant, it's own movie theater. chapel and bowling alley. Norwich shut down for good in 1996, but parts of the hospital had been deserted since the 1970's. By the late 1970's, when Judith Riley followed in her mother's footsteps to become a nurse at Norwich, medical practices had changed. Once popular surgical procedures like lobotomies were halted. Other controversial treatments like electroshock therapy were administered with greater care. No one knows all the secrets Norwich hides, abandoned rooms like accidental time capsules are still being discovered. Here, a basement with suitcases and clothes from patients who came to Norwich many decades ago. Here, a room from the 1970's stacked high with typewriters. Equally eerie are the deserted tunnels that once connected every section of the hospital. They carried hot water pipes, and much more. The administration building, constructed in 1904 was finally abandoned in 1996. Dust blown in from the outsider mixes with peeled plastic from water soaked walls. Once, this was a place were people like Judith Riley hoped they could help others find their way back to society, to modern civilization. Now, Norwich is under the care of nature and amy never be discharged.
As decades pile up into centuries, an architectural treasure meets it's fate, a torehouse of civilization is attacked from below, and a rising tide conquers the crypt of a hero.
50 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - The marine german shepherds are not even a memory. Although their training helped them survive while other pets died, they could not breed among themselves. To prevent fraternization in the ranks, the marines spade female dogs. Although some sheperds mated with feral dogs, after a handful of generations, the dinstictive german shepherd breed has dissappeared.100 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Even towers that still stand tall, like London's Gherkin building, are being stripped away. Moisture slowly rusts the thin steel file cabinets, and spreads mold on the forgotten files within. In place of file cabinets, some humans used home safes of tempered steel to protect valuables, not just from water, but from fire. Paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, many home fires can burn 3 or 4 times that hot. Safes could keep the interiors at 350 degrees, for a while. But though man thought his precious papers will be protected from the flames, even the strongest home safes are no match for the fires that burn unchecked for days on end. It only takes 2 hours for the heat to begin penetrating the weakened steel and start incinerating the papers within.
150 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Time has run out prematurely for the 10,000 Year Clock. How could this happen? Because the real 10,000 Year Clock was never completed. The 9 foot tal prototype was put on display at the Science Museum in London, as the year 1999 changed to 2000. But humans had to wind the prototype every few months. It stopped dead in the first year after people, and now lies in pieces as the stone structure around it has collapsed. Had the real 10,000 Year Clock been completed before mankind vanished, it would have installed in a unique home. A hollowed out limestone mountain in Nevada, 10,000 feet up, and miles from civilization, where the sun would reset the clock by shining through a 4 square window made of sapphire. The purpose of the clock was not to tell people the time, but to get them to think about humanity's future. A future that never happended...
Not far from London's Science Museum, the Gherkin building's joints, exposed to corrosive moisture fail where they have the most weight to bear: the floors. But remarkably, the diamond shaped supports maintain the building's skeleton. The Gherkin is weakened, but unlike most other skyscrapers, it still stands, for now...
300 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Rising sea levels have thrust Maryland's tidal basin relentlessly inland, to the crypt of John Paul Jones. One of the world's greatest sailors has finally received a burial at sea.
For London's Gherkin building, the loss of most of it's windows and floors has reduced the weight load on it's steel frame. Partial collapse has prevented complete destruction, but 300 years of english weather has seeped into cracks in the structure's steel. A brace buckles, triggering chain reactions of failure and fracture in the trusses, until the entire 30,000 ton framework fully yields to the force of gravity.
When steel has failed, bronze survives. The Iwo Jima marines still strain to raise a flag that has been gone for centuries. Although swamp weeds cluster, one of war's most dramatic monuments endures.
As the centuries turn to millenia, nature presses it's advantage even into the best protected places. Can the treasures of the Crypt of Civilization really be safe from destruction?
500 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Man tried to preserve his civilization in libraries, here the memory of the past was available to all, but libraries were always vulnerable. The original Library of Congress was burned by the british in the War of 1812. Some 3000 books on law, economics and history were lost. Now, the dome of the librarie's Jefferson building, completed in 1897, and rising 160 over what is now swamp land is putting too much strain on the supporting walls. The pressure becomes too great for the dome to bear, the concrete can no longer resist the greedy pull of gravity, and falls in a shattering surrender.
2000 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Copies of the Rosetta Disk preserving 1500 human languages and dialects still exist. Each disk was made of nickel, a metal that forms much of the core of the Earth. Nickel resists corrosion, but the texts of the disk are still vulnerable to the corruption of time. 2000 years after people, a great deal of material has built up around one of the Rosetta Disks: the Smithsonian Institution itself.
May 28th, 8113 - Time for the Crypt of Civilization to be opened. But it's long been buried by the collapse of the building around it, which now lies beneath a blanket of grass and trees. Outside the crypt, mold and plants pushed in through broken indows, pressure from above cracked the crypt walls. Water and dank air seized the opportunity and invaded. Metal began to corrode and rust, the beer, which long ago went flat, then turned and soured, and moisture seeped into the plaster skin of the manequins, oxidising and cracking the idealized images of a lost humanity.
50,000 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - As planned 500 centuries earlier, the KEO's satellite's orbit decays. On the way down, it's hit by micro meteorites and tiny fragments from other ancient satellites, but the KEO is prepared for this. The KEO ladened with messages from the 21st century re-enters the atmosphere intact, with sunlight gleaming of it's wings. The Earth is 2 thirds water, and that's probably where the KEO will end it's mission. In the place where life began. Now, sealed for eternity in the blue crypt of the sea, the 50,000 year old messages wait for the future.
Every crypt of civilization assumes that someone will be there on the other side of the valley of time. While some vessels won't survive the journey, each message to the future is a gift of hope, even in a life after people.
In the next episode of Life After People, the last supper has been served. Now, some of the highest restaurants in the world satisfy an apetite for destruction, and see what happended when one real life american supermarket was abandoned with all the food still inside.