11

Short story from the 1950s (or maybe the late '40s). The first expedition to the Moon discovers evidence of a previous landing - a pile of equipment (space suits and such) abandoned by unknown astronauts. The explorers finally come to the conclusion that these unknowns actually came from Earth - they were members of a civilization that was destroyed so completely there is no trace of it in the present, probably eradicated by nuclear war. The space suits show that the unknowns were giants compared to the present-day explorers; one scientist theorizes that eons of lingering radiation turned present-day humans into gnomes. At the end of the story one of the explorers finds a packet of Camel cigarettes and has no idea what it is - it was our civilization that wiped itself out.

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    I expected some four-legged dual-humped Animals hanging around on the Moon and now it's just a package of cigs :P – Dennis Christian Sep 23 '16 at 6:31
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    @DennisChristian The camel has a single hump; The dromedary, two; Or else the other way around. I'm never sure are you? Ogden Nash – user14111 Sep 23 '16 at 6:40
  • @user14111 A Camel has two humps – Dennis Christian Sep 23 '16 at 6:59
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    @DennisChristian However, the beast portrayed on a package of Camel cigarettes is a dromedary, with a single hump. – user14111 Sep 23 '16 at 7:19
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    @user14111 That's all nice and well. I read "Camels on the moon" and not "Camel Cigarettes on the Moon" – Dennis Christian Sep 23 '16 at 11:16
12

Short story from the 1950s (or maybe the late '40s).

"Jetsam", a 1953 short story by A. Bertram Chandler.

At the end of the story one of the explorers finds a packet of Camel cigarettes and has no idea what it is - it was our civilization that wiped itself out.

As he stooped to pick up the pair of binoculars he found one more trifle half buried in the pumice dust. He scooped it up carefully in his gloved hand. It was fragile, mere rubbish, a discarded container that had held something and which was now empty. There was a flimsy, inner box of metal foil, an even flimsier outer box of paper with an external layer of some transparent substance which had preserved the script and the picture of the familiar animal that had once symbolized—something.

The Captain stared at it.

"A camel," he said at last, wonderingly. "A camel. I'd like to know what used to be in this
packet . . ."

That's the American version of the story which appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1953, available at the Internet Archive. As Daniel Roseman pointed out in a comment, the version published in New Worlds Science Fiction #20, March 1953 (also available at the Internet Archive) has a slightly different ending:

As he stooped to pick up the pair of binoculars he found something else half buried in the pumice dust. He lifted it carefully with his gloved hand. It was a bottle — this was fairly obvious in spite of its being cylindrical in shape rather than spherical. Freakishly, as in the case of the flimsy book found by the Navigator, the paper stuck to its side had been preserved through the ages. There were words in the unfamiliar script and, oddly out of place, the picture of a familiar animal.

The Captain stared at it.

“A horse,” he said at last .wonderingly. “A white horse. I’d like to know what used to be in this
bottle . . ."

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    You're clearly quoting from the actual story here, but the version you link to has a different ending: "It was a bottle [...] There were words in the unfamiliar script and, oddly out of place, the picture of a familiar animal. The Captain stared at it. "A horse", he said at last wonderingly. 'A white horse. I'd like to know what used to be in this bottle...' " – Daniel Roseman Sep 21 '16 at 8:19
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    A matter of choice of vices. Americans like a popular brand of tobacco, while the Brits prefer whisky (or is it gin?). – a4android Sep 21 '16 at 12:34
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    White Horse is a cheap, popular brand of blended Scotch whiskey, first made in 1861. – Joe L. Sep 21 '16 at 14:56
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    That definitely is the story, and the info about the UK version is an extra treat. Thanks to all. – Lee Eckhardt Sep 21 '16 at 16:29
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    Thank you! I love golden-age SF, and had no idea that some of these were available. And I'm not certain why, because I download radio shows from archive.org all the time. – Doug R. Sep 22 '16 at 12:17

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