Martin Kunze wants to gather a snapshot of all of human knowledge onto plates and bury it away in the world’s oldest salt mine.
In Hallstatt, Austria, a picturesque village nestled into a lake-peppered region called Salzkammergut, Kunze has spent the past four years engraving images and text onto hand-sized clay squares. A ceramicist by trade, he believes the durability of the materials he plies gives them an as-yet unmatched ability to store information. Ceramic is impervious to water, chemicals, and radiation; it’s emboldened by fire. Tablets of Sumerian cuneiform are still around today that date from earlier than 3000 B.C.E.
“The only thing that can threaten this kind of data carrier is a hammer,” Kunze says.
So far, he has created around 500 squares, which he allows anyone to design for a small donation. Many preserve memories of the lives or work of people involved in the project. Around 150 of the tablets showcase items from collections in Vienna’s museums of National History and Art History. Some local companies have been immortalized. One researcher’s CV now lies in the vault.
But Kunze aims to expand the project, to copy research, books, and newspaper editorials from around the world—along with instructions for the languages needed to read them. For this, the clay squares he’s currently using would take up far too much space than could be set aside for such an audacious undertaking. So Kunze also has conceived of a much thinner medium: He will laser-print a microscopic font onto 1-mm-thick ceramic sheets, encased in wafer-thin layers of glass. One 20 cm piece of this microfilm can store 5 million characters; whole libraries of information—readable with a 10x-magnifying lens—could be slotted next to each other and hardly take up any space.