Amid pomp, archaeologists bury capsule

The shiny metal “torpedo” seemed out of place in the daylight of the Main Green. So too did the men and women gathered around it wearing ivy wreaths and carrying spice “offerings.”

A standard-bearer marched to the beat of a snare drum as four young men carried the artifact on two support beams, as if carrying a ritual sacrifice to an altar.

The torpedo – in reality, a time capsule – was ceremoniously buried Wednesday morning beneath Rhode Island Hall, which is currently undergoing major renovations. The ritual antics, organized by the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, which will occupy the revitalized building, were meant to lighten the mood of what is usually an austere ceremony.

“We’ve been treating the renovation of Rhode Island Hall very much as an archaeological project,” said Susan Alcock, professor of classics and director of the institute. When the project manager of the renovations, which will not be finished for another year, brought up the idea of burying a time capsule, “our eyes lit up immediately,” Alcock added.

Shawmut Design and Construction’s Nicole Blais, the project manager, said a time capsule has been buried in construction projects at other schools.

“Given that it’s an archaeological project, it sounded appropriate” to use one, she said.

The vessel – “gigantic” (by time capsule standards) at three feet long by 12.75 feet wide, Alcock said – was buried amid pomp and circumstance at 10 a.m. following a procession down Waterman and Thayer Streets to the Main Green.

The parade drew some stares as the drummer and standard-bearer led the small crowd through Soldiers Arch. The four “strapping youths” carrying the time capsule wore wreaths, and all participants were dressed in ceremonial red and black clothing.

“We did it as a ritual,” said Krysta Ryzewki ’08 GS, adding that many elements of the ritual held significance for ancient societies, and that the ceremony made the day “both fun and slightly historical.”

The ceremony also included offerings of roots, grains, tea leaves and a “human sacrifice” (a graduate student mimed the procedure) in honor of the Joukowsky Institute’s areas of expertise – Greco-Roman, Mayan and ancient Chinese societies.

The archaeologists tried to fill the capsule with items that they knew could be preserved and understandable in the future, but struggled because most items that hold important information are “paper items,” Alcock said, adding that such items could become unreadable with time due to changes in language and the disintegration of paper.

The objects in the capsules represent different themes, such as “The Year 2008,” “Day in the Life of the Joukowsky Institute,” “Rhode Island Hall Renovation” and “Life on Campus,” Alcock said during the ceremony.

The capsule contains a DVD with the contents of the Joukowsky Institute’s Web page, a “GigaPan” picture of the Institute and its current faculty and students, a dollar bill, a copy of the 2007-2008 Critical Review, an inflatable baseball bat and a copy of the Nov. 5 issue of The Herald, which has a photo of students celebrating Barack Obama’s election.

The capsule will remain untouched beneath the building until the next renovation. “As long as (Rhode Island Hall) stands, the capsule will be hidden,” Alcock said. The building, which has stood for more than 150 years, “will be good for another 150,” she added. “At least I hope so.”

The hall, which was built in 1840, was first used as a science building, where students did taxidermy projects, Alcock said. Workers found a stuffed mouse and crocodile skin during the renovation, she said.

The time capsule is not the first of its kind on campus. Within the Sidney Frank Hall for Life Sciences’ two-story pedestrian bridge is a time capsule that lists the names of the Providence community members whose handprints were used for the “Lines of Sight” art installation.

But the Rhode Island Hall time capsule is viewed more in an archaeological context than as part of a piece of art.

“It’s a fitting episode in the history of the building,” said Elise Nuding ’11, who did an independent study project last semester that examined the history of Rhode Island Hall.

She said she hopes the legacy of the building will be made accessible so that future classes can learn about its previous role on campus. “I would love for future students to be able to look at this building and know about its history.”

The location of the time capsule – under the cement foundation of the building ­- is marked by a plaque that declares the date of the burial, Blais said.

“It’s a statement of hope for the future and hope for things to come,” Alcock said during the ceremony. “It won’t be lost to memory.”