A copper time capsule and a handwritten note on a piece of parchment in a bottle discovered yesterday may uncover a 150-year-old missing piece of history about Christchurch's founders.

Before yesterday morning, no one knew about the artefacts which were found inside the fallen statue of the city's founding father, John Robert Godley.

Canterbury Museum director Anthony Wright said they had not opened the time capsules but said he was excited about what they might contain.

On the folded piece of parchment the words "was erected in" and "by" can be seen written in delicate copperplate lettering.

"In my opinion, I think it was engraved with something like: 'This statue was erected in a year ... by the grateful servants of Christchurch in recognition of John Robert Godley's incredible work as the founder of Christchurch and Canterbury'," Mr Wright said.

He said the parchment had moulded a lot and smelt like old blue cheese left in the sun.

The other time capsule is a hand-made copper tube and feels heavy and full.

"It weighs a couple of kilograms so I'd say it contains some paper, maybe some coins too. But no one really knows."

Museum staff would not be able to open the artefacts until the cordon lifted around the central city and they could get back into their laboratories.

"The public curiosity is well and truly whetted so once we stabilise it we will open it, and reveal its secrets and then lock it again. And as the mayor says, we hope the statue will stand again and the time capsule will go back to where it was.

"But people would love to know what's in there."

He said the find had slightly lifted the morale of Cantabrians who were in dire need of some good news.

"For Christchurch, it's been a piece of really interesting and bright news among all the not so happy stuff."

A public unveiling ceremony will be held when the capsules are opened and whatever is inside will be put on public display.

Mr Wright said he would like the artefacts to be buried again with a new 2011 capsule for a future generation to discover.

Crane driver Barry Riley made the remarkable discovery of the time capsules around 8am yesterday morning.

He had climbed up the 3m-high concrete plinth to see whether the statue could be put back.

The statue toppled over in the earthquake and one of the enduring images of the day was of the city's fallen founding father.

But when Mr Riley looked at the base of where the statue had been, he found a shallow hole that contained the message in a bottle and the time capsule.

They were taken to Mayor Bob Parker, who passed the artefacts on to Canterbury Museum.

It is thought the capsule was placed there when the statue was erected in 1867.

But it could have been after it was moved in 1918 or in 1933.

John Robert Godley, from Ireland, is known as the "Founder of Canterbury".

He lived in the province for only 2 years.