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Monday, May 08, 2006
An ask me-fi question: 'If you had to warn people 10,000 years in the future to stay away from a site, how would you do it?' Read the self-explanatory linked report, 'Expert Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant' and consider the problems of long term communication. Also, via this linked me-fi post, 'The monumental task of warning future generations, which deals with proposals for scattering warning symbols across the proposed Yucca Mountain Repository for spent nuclear fuel.

The YMR is designed to 'continually isolate nuclear waste and protect people and the environment for at least 10,000 years,' ten millenia during which the unique combination of inquisitive and greed that characterises the human mind must be kept at bay. On past form, this won't be easy. 'We decided against simple "Keep Out" messages with scary faces. Museums and private collections abound with such guardian figures removed from burial sites,' notes the Expert Judgement. Guardian figures and objects might have proved benign, except perhaps in Tintin, but even blatantly dangerous things can still hold an often tragic fascination. Imagine the lure of a radiation warning sign, however strongly worded or graphically rendered.

Instead, some have suggested embedding the memory of these poisoned spaces into oral traditions, be they myths, children's rhymes or popular songs, creating a collective cultural memory of the warning that would ultimately be passed down from generation to generation. It's a romantic idea, but as one of the posters points out, "How many oral traditions that have been transmitted to you orally are you familiar with?", the answer is: none. All the oral traditions I know about have reached me through books, magazines or the web.' In other words, you need the back-up of available media, and even that is far from reliable (something we've touched on before).

An example of the relative failure of oral tradition to impart important, enduring information is the whole farrago surrounding UFOs. Why does no oral UFO tradition exist? In the past few days, an MOD report into UFO sightings concluded that, frankly, there's not a lot out there (a question that's also recently been bugging the SETI movement, 'But what if no one's out there at all?), although the soon-to-be extradited 'dangerous hacker' and UFO buff Gary McKinnon would have you believe otherwise. Check the USA report density on this UFO sightings map, a place where oral tradition long ago gave way to other far more influential forms of media.

Nonetheless, myths will inevitably surface. Assume the possibility of ensuring an uninterrupted span of 10,000 years, and that the dangers inherent in long-term nuclear waste storage manifest themselves somehow - leaks, perhaps. Just twenty years after Chernobyl, the whole truth from that particular incident appears to have acquired a thick layer of concrete, its very own sarcophagus. The truth will perhaps never be known, and the myths have already started.

*

High Desert Test Sites 5, an art event in the desert / how architects build brands; are 'built brands' good for the built environment? Probably not / Fiat 128 articles. Bring back bright green cars / Nothing To See Here has launched, no thanks to us / designs and concepts at Inhabitat, including a link to the BOB, a mobile home concept by prolific Australian architect Andrew Maynard. Related, Pragmatic Experimentation, an interview with Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity over at Eyeteeth / lesser known facts of World War II / buy 'Exclusive soil from Doel, Belgium. The city that will disappear!', an auction which bizarrely links to us.

Kathryn Cramer's website, 'Overt Intelligence Operations and Wildcat Cartography' / the art of Tom Phillips / yet more cartographic and artistic musings at Moon River (where we found that UFO sightings map)/ London hasn't changed, the psychology of the cityscape considered from Charles Booth to the present day / a large selection of paper models.

Atlas (t), an excellent mapping weblog / a huge set of photos from The Sultan's Elephant (official site). Flickr has over 4,000 photos with this tag. Ours is a bit young for this kind of thing, so our viewing of the whole spectacle was confined to seeing the elephant being prepared in the vast open space that surrounds Battersea Power Station (see things past).