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