Opening of 200-Year-Old Time Capsule at West Point Is a Dud ... With a Twist

Opening of 200-Year-Old Time Capsule at West Point Is a Dud ... With a Twist
Paul Hudson, archeologist at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., displays coins found in a lead box placed in the base of a monument almost two centuries ago. (U.S. Military Academy via Flickr)

The live opening of a two-century-old time capsule at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., on Aug. 28 left an in-person crowd and a worldwide online audience with little more than dust.


Until the school's archaeological team dug a little deeper.


Team members found six coins and a commemorative medal, dating from 1795 to 1828, in the capsule's sediment, according to an Aug. 30 press release from the academy. Along with a Liberty dollar coin from 1800, the box included 50-, 25-, 10-, 5-, and 1-cent pieces, as well as a commemorative medal from 1826 celebrating the completion of the Erie Canal.


A damaged seam may have allowed moisture into the 1-cubic-foot lead box found during renovations at the base of a West Point monument honoring Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish general and military engineer who fought in the American Revolution. That moisture may have destroyed paper or other perishables included in the time capsule, which school officials say dates to 1828.



A Liberty dollar coin was one of seven artifacts found in the time capsule. (Photo by U.S. Military Academy at West Point via Flickr)


West Point archaeologist Paul Hudson pulled silt and sediment from the box during a livestreamed grand opening at the school's Thayer Hall, which he admitted "didn't quite meet expectations." But upon further review, according to The Associated Press, not everything was lost to the sands of time.


"When I first found these, I thought, man, you know, it would have been great to have found these on stage," Hudson told the AP.


The coins provide little clarity on exactly when or why the capsule was placed in the monument's base. The AP reported a five-cadet committee, including 1829 graduate Robert E. Lee, may have been involved in the process. 


The rebuilt base of the memorial will include a new time capsule, according to an Aug. 15 academy press release. The 8 1/2-foot bronze statue was removed in 2021 when inspectors discovered cracks in its base and column. The capsule was found this year during the base's removal. 


The academy posted dozens of photos of the capsule and contents on its Flickr page.


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Kevin Lilley
Kevin Lilley

Lilley serves as MOAA's digital content manager. His duties include producing, editing, and managing content for a variety of platforms, with a concentration on The MOAA Newsletter and Follow him on Twitter: @KRLilley