West Point historians were baffled when a time capsule from when Robert E Lee was a cadet turned out to be basically empty inside

image of official opening lead box with gloves
West Point archaeologist Paul Hudson explains the contents, or lack thereof, of the box.The US Military Academy West Point/YouTube
  • West Point historians live-streamed a dramatic time capsule-opening ceremony on Monday.

  • But when they finally opened the box, it was empty, except for some dust.

  • School officials said they would test the dust to learn what may have been in the box, if anything.

West Point historians and an archaeologist were baffled when a nearly 200-year-old box, believed to be a time capsule from when Robert E. Lee was a cadet, turned out to be basically empty.

Officials at the United States Military Academy West Point live-streamed the dramatic box-opening ceremony Monday, hoping the box would contain historic artifacts or other time capsule-like items.

The one-square-foot lead box was first discovered last May inside the base of a monument dedicated to Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Revolutionary War patriot, on West Point's campus while staff were conducting renovations. Academy officials believe cadets placed the box inside the monument in 1828, according to a press release from the academy.

image of metal box surrounded by bricks and dirt
The nearly 200-year-old box, which was discovered inside the base of a monument on West Point's campus.The US Military Academy West Point

Jennifer Voigtschild, West Point's command historian, began Monday's ceremony — which was stocked with a panel of historians and experts — by dramatically exclaiming to the audience, "What's in that box?"

Before opening the box, Brigadier General Shane Reeves outlined three possible scenarios for what could be inside the box: nothing, a bunch of dust, or hopefully, "some amazing historic artifacts, something we didn't even know or think about."

But when gloved officials eventually pried the lid off the metal box, the audience began to laugh — it appeared that there was nothing but dust inside.

The staff appeared puzzled, speaking in hushed tones with each other while digging around to find clumps of dirt or dust at the bottom.

Aside from the dust, the academics discovered a manufacturer's inscription on the bottom of the box's lid, which they said they would research later.

image of guy measuring metal box with ruler
A series of concentric circles were printed on top of the box's lid, and an inscription was found on its underside.US Military Academy West Point

"The box didn't quite meet expectations," West Point archaeologist Paul Hudson said as the audience laughed.

"We don't want to think that they went to all the trouble to put this box in a monument and not put anything in it," he said, suggesting that it may have been something small and organic in the box that had decayed.

He said they would conduct further research.

"While the matter inside the box is inconclusive at this point, opening the box has given us further leads to research the history and meaning of this Revolutionary hero and his monument that stood looking over the Academy and the Hudson River for 194 years," Voigtschild said in a statement shared with Insider.

Voigtschild added that the academy was "looking forward to future opportunities to research, mark the spots, reflect, and be inspired by our early history and its legacy."

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