This activity is about values, language, futurology, ethics and belonging.

The legends of Noah or Utanapishtim may or may not be true, but we are all interested in the future and protecting that which we think is of value. The Norwegian government is to build a giant vault to store up to 2m crop seeds, keeping them safe in case a serious disaster jeopardises seed stocks and, therefore, food supplies. The vault will be built in the mountains on the island of Spitsbergen, about 600 miles from the North Pole. Reinforced, metre thick, concrete walls, airlocks and blast-proof doors plus permanent permafrost will combine to keep the seeds frozen and secure.

Introduce a discussion by referring to the account of Noah who was, according to Christian belief, instructed to build an ark in which he and his immediate family and a selection of animals were saved from a widespread flood over all the Earth. In another flood legend Utanapishtim in the Gilgamesh epic performs a similar task.

Ask children to discuss what they would save for the future; what would they choose to be stored in the vault: animal, mineral or vegetable? What ideas would they want recorded and secured that people would need in the future? What would they store for the future in the event of global difficulties? What will the people of the future want and need? Where will people store things? Perhaps a vault for seeds, the internet for ideas; it really depends on what children decide will be essential for life in a post-disaster future. As always, ask children to justify their choices and be encouraged to be receptive to the ideas of others.

Enriching this enrichment activity could be to look at the NASA website and/or for children to consider what, if any, intelligent life may exist in the universe. NASA leave messages for other intelligent life within the rocket vehicles or on the external casing. What should intelligent life, if it exists in space, know about the people of Earth? The challenge is that we cannot tell when the messages will be read; it could be in thousands of years, millions of years, now or never. Composing a statement for others to understand who and what we are represents a challenging task.

Thanks to John Senior for this brainteaser.

First published in Primary G&T Update, September 2006

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