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Wired news has recently posted an interesting story about how to warn future generations (or aliens?) of the 1,000s of tons of 'monstrously dangerous' left-overs from the nuclear weapons program. they discuss the use of pictographic danger signs which will be tested on people from far-flung cultures to discover those that are universally legible, even after a period of 10,000 years.

next to the fact that living beings that are able to break through meters of concrete probably also would posses some sort of nuclear radiation sensing equipment, this seems an interesting problem: how would one best 'visualize' danger in a timeless manner?
[wired.com (story) & wired.com (pictures)]




Those images of spikes make me think of Stonehenge rather than danger and harm. A sort of gloomy Stonehenge, but nevertheless..

Fri 08 Sep 2006 at 8:05 PM

"Beings that are able to break through meters of concrete probably also would posses some sort of nuclear radiation sensing equipment," you reckon?

Well us humans didn't have them the first time around. Metal tools and patience for several thousand years, but radiation detectors for only the last couple of hundred. For most of that period, talk about "invisible rays" and "particles smaller than atoms" would have gotten you burnt at the stake.

I'd put my money on all the scary concrete spikes convincing our future archaeologists there was buried treasure to be had!

Mon 11 Sep 2006 at 1:04 AM

I considered that the vaults would be so secure that advanced technology must be used to break in.

when considering thousands of years, even the best signs might be removed so later generations (or competing populations) might be misinformed.

Mon 11 Sep 2006 at 11:34 AM

Every time you put something someplace...people are curious. I'd take a cue from sci fi movies and put some tangible form of -absolutely nothing- there. Cover the whole area with completely featureless concrete (or similar). Nothing growing, nothing to misinterpret as a "religious or astronomical symbol". Ye olde "no man's zone".

Sat 16 Sep 2006 at 9:27 AM

Artist James Acord explored marking nuclear dumps and land contaminated by nuclear war in the 1980's and early 1990's as documented in the New Yorker Magazine article "Moving to Richland I, II" October and November 1991. He fabricated a ghostly skeletal horse head of granite, plated with a man made element and containing an unused breeder reactor fuel rod as a prototype marker.

There have been some interesting court cases exploring the period of responsibility for waste, truly operating at and acknowledging the limits of the legal system.

Information aesthetics is greatly complicated by long timescale.

Mon 18 Sep 2006 at 3:27 AM

In nature we can see certain colour combinations to convey a meaning or two. Although given curious nature of human species, it would be next to impossible to present any colour combination or objects to warn against danger.

However, it is not fully hopeless. Certain pheromones in air can certainly give out signals. An unpleasant or a discomforting oder can accomplish this - even though it may not be possible to place such 'warning sign' in a timeless manner.

The point here is that a timeless, full proof warning sign may not exist, however natural signs may just be more credible in the long run then anything that we find to be rational at this time.

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