message time myth cat

How can we get a message from the present, in a distant future of 10,000 years? And, more importantly, how can we make sure that it will be properly understood by humans we cannot know anything about? This is the question authorities in charge of permanent radioactive waste storage sites are dealing with. And researchers have come to an original yet not absurd answer: by creating a myth.

Of all the traces left by humans on Earth, radioactivity, whether of civil or military origin, will remain the longest – up to several million years for plutonium. Up to this date, no way to ensure the long-term viability of an accumulation of highly radioactive material has been found. Waste will keep on being temporarily stored around the world until permanent sites are carved in granitic rocks.

On the Mount Yuka site in the state of Nevada, USA, which is vowed to become a permanent storage one, a study has been initiated by american government to find the best way to warn populations who will live in the area 10,000 years from now, against the invisible danger of radioactivity.

In those distant times, even if humans still live there, all the languages we know will have vanished, as well as countries, cultures and cities. Or, rather than disappearing, they will have evolved to such an unpredictable extent, that they will have become unrecognizable. Languages tend to last about 500 to 600 years. Most english speakers today have difficulties understanding the language of John Milton. Nor do they cope with Roger Bacon’s, and old norse is a dead language that is now understood by a few specialists only.

10,000 years is a too distant perspective to predict the form of languages that will be spoken or cultures that will flourish. But options came out of the study, and one of them suggests burying ceramic discs with engraved danger signs near storage sites – ceramic being known for its longevity and inalterability. New questions regarding design rose out of it, and a new semiotic field was born on this occasion.

Nevertheless, it was objected that the warning signals might not be understood and that these discs might be the subject of inappropriate curiosity. Rather than dissuade people in the future, they might encourage them to dig and unravel their mystery, or simply collect them as curios.

Another answer, quite relevant, was that of the rosetta stone: the message would be written in seven current languages, which we know will have disappeared but which could still possibly be deciphered. The result is edifying and sounds like a sinister magical protection formula from the depths of time:

message time myth cat

This place is a message… and is part of a series of messages …pay attention to it!
Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be guardians of a powerful culture.
This place is not a place of honor… no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued lies here.
What lies here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.
The danger is in a particular location… it grows bigger as you get closer to the core… the core of that danger is here… it has a peculiar size and shape, and lies below us.
The danger is still present in your time, as it was in ours.
The danger is harmful, and it can kill.
The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.
The danger is unleashed only if you substantially and physically disturb this place. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.


In other times, when the world was still full of magic and godly mysteries, humans would have called this the home of a very ancient sleeping demon that would better not be awaken!

Although the message is clear, there is no real guarantee that its physical support, even engraved on a 20-ton, 7-meter-high granite stele as planned or on a bronze plaque (two of the most durable materials) shall last, or be discovered through the vagaries of time.

If the future is highly unpredictable, we can try and imagine it though, or rather extrapolate it by considering our current knowledge of the world as it was ten thousand years ago. Do we know of any message from such an ancient past? Yes, we know loads of them, and they are called myths.

message time myth cat

message time myth cat ray


message time myth cat

In 1981, the US Department of Energy created the Human Interference Task Force to find an effective way to warn about very long-term danger from radioactive storage sites. Among a team of engineers, anthropologists, nuclear physicists, scientific behaviour specialists, were the philosophers Françoise Bastide and Paolo Fabbri. The two researchers came up with an original answer based on two pillars:

First: create a genetically modified cat that would change colour in the presence of radiation. It goes without saying that the question of the immediate feasibility of such a magical-haired cat had not really been asked, but it was assumed that this would be possible in the future with the progress of genetics.

Secondly: create a sustainable popular culture around this cat, so that if your cat changes colour, the message is clear: danger! you must leave!

Their postulate is full of common sense, because humans have a long history of love for cats and their usefulness. In ancient times, they already protected grain stocks from rodents, and 4000-year-old bricks from the Indus civilization with cat paw prints were found. The presence of cats among humans, even in very long times, therefore seems highly probable.

Thus implanting a legend in popular culture, which would become a myth over time, would be the most reliable way to transmit the warning message correctly and flawlessly. And the best guarantee not to distort the message to the point of producing a misdirection. Examples abound in phrases that lose their original meaning and find a new one in another era (the example of « sleeping diner »), but they are not myths, which work in the human mind at a symbolic and universal level (archetypal according to Karl Jung‘s psychological conception) less dependent on his original culture and the passage of time.

But is all this very serious? totally!

By the way, the Berlin band EmperorX made it a folk song; Don’t change colour, kitty


In 10000 years a cat will still be a cat and the notion of invisible danger, such as disease, curse, too. And if people still have wakes by the fire, sing and tell each other stories, then the legend of the cat changing colour will live on.


Myths are messages full of meaning and wisdom sent by our ancestors through time. This idea was developed by mythologist Joseph Campbell. He sees in them lessons of life, moral or practical, nourished by the experience of the elders. They prepare each generation, and each individual to accept his place in the cosmos, to become an adult and avoid as much as possible reproducing the mistakes of the past.

This is what Campbell asserts, the mythological form is the most likely to persist through time without losing its original meaning. How? The message must be anchored in the deepest folds of the human mind, on common symbolic objects linked to the human experience in what it has most shared, here fear. According to Karl Gustav Jung, the famous swiss psychiatrist, the archetype is this primitive psychological model, which would be innate from our biological evolution, and therefore common to all humans, regardless of age, gender or social position. According to his theory, all archetypes constitute a collective unconscious which is both the matrix of dreams and symbolic representations. The role of an archetype is to link a symbol (here, the cat changing colour) with an emotion (fear, danger) in the human mind.

The link then established is so strong that it can last over time because it functions as a universal language. The symbolic form takes on a magical or religious meaning, which is not necessarily intentional at first, but rather the result of the passage of time. Because as time passes, the past becomes more and more strange, unreal and inconceivable in our eyes focused on the present. Thus, myths, like religions, need their messages to be updated, reformulated in each era, so as not to be forgotten. Cinema and literature, and culture more broadly, do this work of perpetual reformulating myths and great stories.

If the form changes over time, the substance remains: as space travel has become the contemporary version of astral travel, the destructive power of the atom and radioactivity are comparable to a biblical plague or black magic. This terrifying, invisible, odorless, painless threat, is embedded in us according to very ancient and still active patterns of fear. In short, everything is in place, so don’t forget to create genetically modified cats to react to radioactivity!



For a perspective on humanity’s long term and the possibility of its disappearance, see Alan Wiesman‘s book Homo disparitus, chapter XV is dedicated to radioactivity and mount Yuka.

Joseph Campbell presents his idea of myth as a message through time in a series of interviews filmed for television: the power of myths in 1988.

message time myth cat