Why is the first Mexican flag stored inside a frozen Norwegian mountain?

BARRIO (El Pais) – What if, faced with looming threats of major wars and cataclysmic natural disasters, we had to find a way to save memories and somehow preserve the record of humanity? If we couldn’t store those memories digitally because they’re too big, too expensive, too everything – what would we do? These questions are far from hypothetical and not at all improbable. People have been thinking about them for years, and governments like Mexico, India and Norway have been taking action.

In the Arctic Ocean, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, lies a mountain in the Svalbard archipelago. Within this mountain, 300 meters below the surface, there is an old mine. The air inside is cold and dry, and there is no natural light. Many people think it’s the safest place on Earth. Since 2017, the original Mexican flag, along with the country’s declaration of independence and every constitution from 1814 to 1917 have been stored here. There are also several manuscripts from the Spanish conquest and 492 historical files from the Mexican judiciary, all in digital format.

“It’s not the first time that our national archives have been kept in an underground cave,” said Gustavo Villanueva Bazán, a Mexican historian and expert in records management at the University of Andalusia (Spain). “During the French intervention, Benito Juárez moved around the country, taking the national archives with him. From September 1864 to May 1867, he sought refuge in a cave known as Del Tabaco, located in the municipality of Matamoros de La Laguna, Coahuila. After the Mexican Republic was reestablished, the documents were recovered from the cave.”

The interior of the old Norwegian coal mine where the Artic World Archive is located.

But the reasons for storing the Mexican manuscripts and artifacts in the Arctic World Archive are different now. It aims to ensure long-term preservation and security of the digital archives, free from unauthorized access and hacking, for thousands of years. Additionally, this location minimizes the carbon footprint associated with traditional storage methods. “Preserving archives is crucial for avoiding past mistakes and establishing a social and national identity. Our collective history shapes who we are as a society. The documents in this archive reflect the daily administration, legislation, activity and relationships of our society,” said Villanueva.

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