A statue of Charles Darwin awaits placement over an opening, left on the bench, where a time capsule will be placed as finishing touches are applied Monday to exhibits in Fossil Hall at the National Museum of Natural History. The hall, with a new exhibit called “Deep Time,” will open June 8 after a five year renovation. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

Finding a fossil is like discovering a time capsule of what life was like millions of years ago. So it was fitting that Arlton Murray, who worked with fossils at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, hid his own time capsule in a dinosaur installation in 1947. The wooden box — containing Murray’s Boy Scout membership card and a note about one of the installations — was a surprise find five years ago as the museum’s Fossil Hall was taken apart for renovation.


The exhibit team for “Deep Time” assembles photos, messages and other mementos for the time capsule that would be hidden along with a box a museum staffer had hidden in the gallery in 1947. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

The discovery inspired the current exhibit team to hide its own time capsule in the reimagined gallery, called “Deep Time,” which opens June 8. About a dozen curators, researchers, writers and educators gathered Monday to fill a dinosaur-themed lunchbox with photos, messages and other mementos.

Project director Siobhan Starrs said the contents are less mysterious than those included by Murray, who worked as a preparator, or someone who readies specimens for display. It took a bit of research to discover the significance of the Boy Scout card, Starrs said. It turned out that Murray discovered his passion for fossils on a Boy Scout outing.

Starrs included two of her daughter’s soccer photos, one from 2009 and one from this year, to show how her life had changed since she began working on the project.

“And I always had her in mind as the [exhibit’s] target audience,” Starrs said of the teen, who’s interested in science.

Amy Bolton, the educator on the exhibit design team, added a 3-D-printed trilobite, a small, crablike creature that’s in the exhibit.

“It represents new technology used in education,” Bolton said.

Matt Carrano, curator of dinosauria at the museum, tucked in a tiny box with a sock from his baby son, a favorite quote and a dinosaur bone fragment he found as a graduate student.

Others added team photos, specially designed business cards and letters to future Fossil Hall staff.

The time capsule did not go under a dinosaur but beneath a statue of Charles Darwin, the scientist who explained how living things have changed over time.

Starrs deposited the lunchbox, and Murray’s box, into a cutout in the bench the statue sits on. Two members of the installation crew then slid the statue over the opening.

“It’s guarded by Darwin’s butt,” Carrano said with a laugh.

The new time capsule probably won’t remain undisturbed as long as Murray’s. “Deep Time” covers millions of years of life on the planet, but the life of the exhibit is expected to be about 30 years.


A Boy Scout card belonging to museum staffer Arlton Murrary was found in a wooden box as the gallery was being taken apart five years ago. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

The old time capsule inspired members of the “Deep Time” exhibit team to leave their own mementos — this time inside a dinosaur lunchbox. Items in the box included photos, notes, a baby sock and a fossil. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)