Mercury Project: Explanation of the Buried Artifacts (13 March 1995).

As one operator (Scott Hankin: hankin@osf.org) suggested, we viewed the process of discovering artifacs as a metaphor for the Internet itself. Choosing artifacts with some "underlying logic" presented a challenge for collective interaction which motivated users to return to the site. It also gave us an opportunity to make a meta-comment on the whole affair.

The artifacts were inspired by the text: Journey to the Centre of the Earth written by Jules Verne in 1864. Verne is considered by many to be the father of Science Fiction; his 64 novels anticipate a variety of technological means of travel to distant places.


The novel begins with a lexigraphic puzzle, a runic text written by "Arne Saknussen", an Icelandic alchemist, that must be decyphered by young Axel ("lexa"--words--backwards) and his erudite uncle, Professor Lidenbrock. We did not include the runic text as an artifact because we felt it would be too easy to recognize.

Choosing which artifacts to bury was difficult; just as the designer of a jigsaw puzzle must "ask himself all the questions the player will have to solve, and, instead of allowing chance to cover his tracks, aim to replace it with cunning, trickery, and subterfuge" (Georges Perec, Life a User's Manual).

Below we expose some of the contents; we leave the rest to you. Most of the artifacts (except the sea monsters) appear in the first 7 chapters of the Verne's Journey. (citations are to Puffin Classics 1985 edition, translated by Robert Baldick. We also recommend Oxford University Press 1992 edition, translation by William Butcher).

page 1: "...St. Michael's clock has only just struck half past one." The watch was the best evidence that we weren't faking the site with prestored images.


page 11: "...In April, after he had planted seedlings of mignonette... he would go regularly every morning and pull them by the leaves to make them grow faster."

page 12: "How well I knew them, those knicknacks of mineralogical science!...specimens of graphite, anthracite, ...".

page 25: "I lit my long curved pipe..."

page 28: "He sat down in his armchair and, pen in hand, started putting down what looked to me like algebraical equations."

page 30: "...she found the door locked."

page 45: "buying some things he needed for his journey...including ...torches..."

page 45: "I rushed to my mirror."

page 186: "We stood there stupefied, horrified by this herd of marine monsters." (we figured this might give it away...)

And just so you don't get the idea that everything in there was literally taken from the text, there were a few conceptual links as well, such as:

The "magic lantern" was an early mechanism for viewing sequences of images. This 1/12 scale replica was on loan from the LA Museum of Miniatures.


This scale antique globe was meant to suggest the logo on Andreeson's first browser, itself now somewhat of an antique....

Finally, we'd like to acknowledge the following log entry..

From: richard K : rich@cmc.eng.comsat.com
Date: Thu Sep 22 08:34:06 PDT 1994
Have successfully unearthed a detailed photograph of what I believe to be the robot god...I hope to discover more on future expeditions.
Yours Truly,
Arne Saknussen

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