A 194-year-old time capsule unearthed at the US Military Academy West Point has bore fruit, with archaeologists discovering centuries-old coins and a medal at the bottom. The items’ discovery came as a surprise to the team, who initially believed the container to contain nothing but sediment.
In a press release, West Point revealed that the lead time capsule, which is believed to date back to 1828 or ’29, was found at the base of the academy’s Thaddeus Kościuszko monument during renovations this past May. Its origins are unknown, with the main theory stating it could have been buried by cadets – possibly future Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee – when the memorial for the famed Polish military engineer and Revolutionary War hero was completed.
Initially, the team of historians, school officials and archaeologists believed the container possibly held relics and documents from the time it was buried, if not earlier. However, upon opening it on a live stream and in front of a room of cadets, they were met by a discovery that “didn’t quite meet expectations.”
Short answer: the time capsule appeared empty, aside from a build-up of sediment at the bottom.
The time capsule was inspected again the following day, this time away from the crowd of onlookers. It was then the team saw that it did, indeed, hold historical items: six silver coins dating between 1795 and 1828, including a Liberty dollar, as well as an Erie Canal commemorative medal from 1826.
According to expert websites, the coins are currently going for between a few hundred dollars to well over $1,000.
Given the amount of sediment, it’s now believed that moisture and dirt seeped into the container via a damaged seam, which, in turn, destroyed any and all organic material that may have been placed within, such as paper. The question remains, however, as to how the time capsule was damaged in the first place.
Speaking about the discovery at the live event on August 28, 2023, Dean of the Academic Board Brig Gen. Shane Reeves said:
“This is an incredible story that involves so many of West Point’s heroes and many of them are the Army’s and our nation’s heroes. We should reflect upon and be inspired by our history to pause and realize we have the immense honor and responsibility to continue the legacy that Kościuszko started, and that West Point continues to live up to his vision from so long ago.
“There is no better opportunity to take a moment and be inspired by our Army and academy’s connection through time that is represented by that capsule and one of our nation’s true heroes.”
Work is currently underway to preserve the artifacts uncovered in the time capsule. West Point has stated that more updates will be provided when additional information becomes available.