“Information is incredibly valuable and the loss or theft of it is a major concern,” Thomsen says. “When data is stored online it can only be protected to a certain point – no system is completely secure. That’s why we believe in offline storage for irreplaceable information – it can’t be hacked or changed!”
Data is stored in binary code on purpose-built piqlFilm, which can last for centuries. Helpfully, instructions about how to extract the data are provided should our descendants come across the vault in centuries to come.
If they can find it. Svalbard’s location was chosen because of its remoteness but also because the Norwegian-governed island has a demilitarised status.
The archive holds all types of content including constitutions and other governing documents, historical treasures, master artworks, contemporary music and art,
“This makes it politically very stable and this is important in an era of cyber warfare,” Thomsen says. “Security of the archive is managed by our partner, Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani (100 per cent owned by the Norwegian government) and they are very well equipped to ensure the security of the vault.”
So who is using the vault? Believe it or not, clients from more than 15 countries include many national governments.
“The archive holds all types of content including constitutions and other governing documents, historical treasures, master artworks, contemporary music and art, architectural drawings, scientific discoveries to name just a few,” Thomsen explains.
“Time poses the greatest risk to data. Having copies in the Arctic World Archive ensures that if every other copy is lost due to technological obsolescence, technical failure or some other disaster, the information is
There is some suggestion that governments are starting to store state secrets here. Is that true?
“No, that is not correct,” Thomsen says. “Governments do not store state secrets in the archive.”
Would you tell us even if they were?
“If it was intended to store such information we would never have talked to the public and the press about the existence of such an archive.”
Alongside documents from the national archives (but no state secrets) of countries including Brazil, Mexico and Norway are digital versions of cultural treasures. To celebrate the European Year of Cultural Heritage, a vote was held in 2018 to choose more items to be digitally preserved, a showcase of the best that humanity has to offer.
Winning artefacts included a Gutenberg Bible, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, the blueprints of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, details of the Higgs boson breakthrough and, randomly, Music for the Jilted Generation by The Prodigy – the only music from our age that apocalypse survivors may get to listen to.
The only significant cultural artefact that’s missing is a copy of the most remarkable magazine that has ever existed, The Big Issue. How much would it cost to put these pages into storage?
“We charge a yearly fee, however we don’t publish our prices publicly,” Thomsen says. “If you have a project in mind, let us know and we can discuss how we can meet your needs.”