The Department of Energy gets some weird jobs put before it every so often. Particularly, as the governing body for the USA's nuclear program, the DoE has been faced with a particularly bizarre quandary:
What do we do with all the leftover shit?
Now I'm speaking specifically about the leftover shit from nuclear weapons research - various horrifically radioactive elements that would threaten any area they were stored in. The Department of Energy, knowing that no civilized, self-respecting state would want such a hazard dumped in their backyard, they decided to do what the American government has done every time they've been left with some dangerous quantity they don't quite understand: they ship it to New Mexico and try to keep it there for as long as possible.
And I mean as long as possible - these dumps need to be sealed away from humanity for 10,000 years to ensure their contents are safe to handle. So this is where the Department of Energy runs into a strange quandary:
How do you keep people from going near an area for 10,000 years?
The thing is, this isn't a hypothetical issue. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant began accepting waste in 1999, and should only be accepting more waste until 2038-ish. That means that in quite a short time frame, we are going to have to seal a waste isolation plant and find some way to prevent anyone from ever going near it.
So the DoE has, since 1983, been working with various specialists (and, in my humble opinion, some less-than-specialists) to try and derive some warning system that would ensure that no one would walk on the site before it stops being a hazard. These specialists represent every field from anthropology and archaeology to astronomers who specialize in attempting to find extra-terrestrial life and science fiction writers.
And these people are producing results. While the final report isn't expected until 2028, there have been plenty of updates on progress. The specialists have focused on marking the sites so as to prevent humans - or any other intelligent life - from interfering with the site. The problem with making these markings is twofold.
First, the markings have to stand for 10,000 years. Past any worries about weathering and erosion, the markings have to be made so that they aren't purposefully or accidentally moved, or stolen. Secondly, the markings have to be made so that when, 10,000 years from now, some form of intelligent life who may or may not be human and most certainly will not share any cultural or lingual touchstones with our society today reads them, they will make just as much sense as they do today.
And so the specialists have gone to work. To combat the first few problems the markers will be made massive and immobile, they will be made out of the strongest, cheapest material available, and they will have much redundancy in their message so that the loss of any piece won't prohibit delivery of the message. To combat the last few, the markers will be written in seven languages - the six United Nations official languages and Navajo, the language that developed in the same region as the WIPP. They will also have additional blank space, with instructions for new translations to be added as the original marker begins to wear away.
And to avoid people dismissing the warnings as simple attempts to deter grave robbers, in the vein of the Egyptian curses, the specialists have been working to craft the most precise, straightforward message they can.
The message goes like this:
"This place is a message, and part of a system of messages. Pay attention to it!
Sending this message was important to us.
We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.
This place is not a place of honor.
No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here.
Nothing valued is here.
What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger."
The message then goes into specifics about the location of the danger:
"The danger is in a particular location...
It increases toward a center...
The center of the danger is here...
Of a particular size and shape, and below us."
And then the message moves to the nature of the danger:
"The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.
The danger is to the body, and it can kill.
The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.
The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically.
This place is best shunned and left uninhabited."
And this is the message which so many specialists are bound and determined to make sure survives for the next 10,000 years.
The Department of Energy gets some weird jobs, but perhaps none are so weird as writing what will be, in effect, the epitaph of humanity. These markers, these massive, immovable markers, will be one of the last remnants of our present lives that survive, warning whatever is left out there away from some of our longest lasting impacts, created in an effort to destroy one another.
I think it's bizarre that we, as a species, will be putting our gravestones in a place we specifically mark as being best shunned and left uninhabited.
I think it's bizarre that this is the only place humanity will remain.
This is not a place of honor.
And, unapologetically, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_Isolation_Pilot_Plant