Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Bogus Time Capsule Volume 55 Number 1, January/February 2002
by Colleen P. Popson

When Dublin archaeologists started digging foundations on which a nineteenth-century pillar once stood, they suspected they might find something interesting. They didn't anticipate that they would discover a foundation stone some ten feet underground that the press would come to call a "time capsule," inspiring much attention and excitement. Excavations at the site were conducted in advance of the construction of the new "Millennium Spire."

Weeks of updates in the Irish Times calling the two-and-a-half foot long, one-foot-deep granite box "a city of Dublin treasure," fueled the suspense surrounding its opening. Then conservators, working meticulously to prevent damage to the box's contents, chipped away the last of the rosin that held the inscribed copper-alloy lid in place. What fascinating relics of Irish history lay inside? Nothing but empty space.

The pillar, erected in honor of British admiral Horatio Nelson in 1808, was blown up by the Irish Republican Army in 1966. In 1967, an article in the Irish Independent claimed the pillar likely contained a time capsule filled with coins and newspapers, as was the custom of the time.

While those at the National Museum suggest the coins were stolen prior to the placement of the foundation stone, Franc Myles and Annaba Kilfeather of Margaret Gowen & Company, Ltd., the archaeological contract company that made the discovery, believe that the 1967 report was in error. A detailed account of the laying of the foundation stone in the Freeman's Journal of February 16, 1808 makes no mention of contents placed in the box; instead it indicates the box served only as the bed for a dedicatory plaque, inscribed with names of important dignitaries of the day, that was glued to its top.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America