Just Explain It: Protecting Treasures

We're celebrating 237 years of American independence as it's enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. The document is something we treasure and want to protect because of its value to us as a country.

Besides the Declaration of Independence, there are many things that we collectively treasure around the world: gold, rare objects, and historical artifacts to name a few.

In this Just Explain It, we'll look at some treasures and find out how they are stored, preserved and protected.

Even though it’s one of our founding documents, the original handwritten Declaration of Independence wasn't preserved very well for most of its existence. The rolled up parchment was carried around with the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War. After that it was in many locations in or around Washington D.C., where it was exposed to light and other harmful elements.

In 1921, the Declaration was moved to the Library of Congress, where it was not only displayed, but for the first time, expertly preserved and cared for. Then in 1952, it was given to the National Archives.

[Related: Carlyle CEO Buys 1776 Printing of Declaration of Independence]

Today, the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are on display in the rotunda there. They’re under bulletproof glass and in encasements made from titanium and aluminum. Inert argon gas is inside the case and the humidity is regulated to keep the parchment flexible. While on display, documents are closely guarded. At night, they are lowered into a vault.

Theft is obviously a big concern for pieces of history like the Declaration of Independence. Or art, like the Mona Lisa. The Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece was actually stolen from the Louvre in 1911. No one knew it was missing for over 24 hours, because they thought it was being refurbished. In the end, two years passed before the painting was found by authorities.

Today, eight million people a year see the painting. No one can get close to it because it’s behind inch-and-a-half thick bulletproof glass that also maintains a constant temperature and humidity within the case.

But, let’s face it, when we talk about treasures, what often comes to mind is gold. We all know the huge gold depository at Fort Knox in Kentucky, but more gold holdings are actually in a highly secured vault in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. Even though it’s located in the U.S., most of it is owned by other countries, which represents about one quarter of the world’s gold. The 530,000 gold bars are in a watertight, airtight vault 80 feet below street level, and behind a 90 ton steel door. Security cameras and motion sensors also keep the vault secure, as do the armed guards.

[Related: Despite Cuts, Fort Knox’s Iconic Status Endures]

Meanwhile, there’s a vault on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen designed to resist a nuclear holocaust, earthquake, and flooding if the ice caps melt, but it doesn’t hold gold. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is home to 2.25 billion seeds to protect the world’s plant life in the event of a global disaster, seed loss and to maintain crop diversity. The seed vault is built 390 feet inside a mountain, 490 feet above sea level and is so remote, there aren’t even any direct roads leading to it.

What do you think? What treasures do you think we should be protecting? What treasures would you like to see up close? Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter using #JustExplainItNews.
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