Students of Dubai Men‘s College are getting together a time capsule. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: Twenty years ago on June 17, on Dubai’s dusty desert outskirts, a group of college students buried a time capsule in the sands.

Packed with ornaments, trinkets, books, and electronics — mementos of that day and age — the aluminium box is set to be dug up and opened on June 17, 2097.

The time capsule was part of a class project at the Dubai Men’s College, one of very few universities in the UAE at the time.

The course, which was on critical thinking and English communication, had tasked 14 students with collecting items that represent both the UAE’s past and present.

Even today, 80 years before the box is set to be opened, some of the items would cause mystified stares — and raised eyebrows.

Younger people would likely be baffled by the audio cassette, video tapes and floppy disks. And a 1960s hit record of The Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody was far outdated at the time.

Then there’s the German-made 6mm pistol, meant as a nod towards humanity’s constant conflicts — and the hope of future peace.

Plenty of traditional items loved by Emiratis made it in to the box too. A small glass coffee pot, an incense burner, traditional clothes, a burqa, UAE coins, Islamic prayer beads, and a wooden pipe were packed in the box.

The students included jars of water, air and sand from across the UAE, in the hope that they would one day be useful for environmental researchers.

Other items had an everyday, practical nature.

A small jar of a popular brand of instant coffee was thrown in, as well as fish hooks, sunglasses, a mobile phone, a 1997 telephone directory, sunglasses, a small radio, and a map of the city.

One of the students on the project believed at the time that a small replica wooden dhow — a traditional sailing boat — would be of the most interest to future generations.

“The dhows are being replaced even today. A hundred years from now, there probably won’t be any dhows left,” said Bader Asker.

“Everything is going to change in the next 100 years,” said Fahed Senan, another student of the group. “Nothing will remain the same in the city.”

His words ring true. At that time, the capsule’s burial site at the Gulf News headquarters and its parent, Al Nisr Publishing, was considered a long drive through the desert on a narrow road.

Today, the site, is just a quick walk from the Dubai Canal, cutting through the central Business Bay district.

A marble plaque on top of the burial site explains the time capsule, and its opening date. Although the nearby road has changed twice and a pavement put in place, the site has so far escaped being built over.

One Gulf News veteran remembered the day.

“It was very hot,” recalled Francis Matthew, who currently serves as the paper’s Editor at Large.

He can be seen in one of the pictures taken on the day.

Standing nearby is Norman Gray, who served as the very first director of Dubai Men’s College, and Obaid Humaid Al Tayer, Minister of State for Financial Affairs and managing director of Al Nisr Publishing.

“We had already dug the hole, and we had been out there several times to get the hole ready,” said Matthew.

“The interesting thing is — why did this pick this or that, what sort of things did these pieces illustrate? It’s a vignette of life in 1997,” he added.

“Let’s hope they remember.”

But towards the end of this century, will anyone still remember Dubai Men’s College — or Gulf News?

“Institutions may alter, but the functions that we do, they will certainly be doing,” said Matthew.

What’s in the time capsule?

Some of the items in the box were written in a copy of Gulf News the day after the event. Some of them are:

A Gulf News news package from that day

A small clay model of a traditional UAE fort

Traditional perfume in tiny glass bottles

A torch, with batteries

Arabic and English dictionaries

A collection of UAE coins — from one fils up to one dirham

A brass lantern

Pistol — 6mm Mauser

A small replica of a dhow

Air, water and sand in jars

Fish hooks and weights

Commemorative UAE stamps

A book of Arabic poetry

A calculator

A bedside alarm clock

A model of a sports car and motorcycle

Charts depicting the family trees of UAE rulers

Photos of the students and Dubai

Books of the UAE’s history, sports and development

Spices, pulses and herbs