A story or essay possibly published in New Yorker relating how aliens perceived humans by misinterpreting the artifacts left by them. For example, they thought we worshipped a god in a box (TV) because at the moment of apocalypse, all humans died surrounding the "shrines". They also thought we revered animal because we had so much iconography around us (the Lions, The Bears, etc). They thought the toilet seat was a decorative collar (Kind of like an Elizabethan collar). An English teacher talked about it in class 25 years ago and I've been searching for the story/author.

  • 1
    Did they think that a fork was called a dinglehopper?
    – Valorum
    Jan 20 '14 at 18:06
  • @Richard: No, but they did believe that cars were powered by burning fossils and constructed by primitive robots. Dec 30 '14 at 9:58
  • I remember this story. But I also cannot remember the title. I think it might have been in one of the "Best SF and Fantasy of (fill in the year)" collections. It might also have been a Nebula winner (I read a lot of these back then). I remember that it was posed as an archeological paper written by Extraterrestrials and that at one point, they wrote about pay for toilet stalls, stating that one archeaologist had posited that these were pay for toilet stalls -- but that it was unlikely because no civilized people would do such a thing. Since Motel of the Mysteries is a novel and not a short sto
    – user79248
    Mar 3 '17 at 6:00
  • probably the same as scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/162247/…
    – Otis
    Jun 25 '17 at 14:51

It looks like you're after Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay

the blurb reads as follows;

It is the year 4022; all of the ancient country of Usa has been buried under many feet of detritus from a catastrophe that occurred back in 1985. Imagine, then, the excitement that Howard Carson, an amateur archeologist at best, experienced when in crossing the perimeter of an abandoned excavation site he felt the ground give way beneath him and found himself at the bottom of a shaft, which, judging from the DO NOT DISTURB sign hanging from an archaic doorknob, was clearly the entrance to a still-sealed burial chamber.

Carson's incredible discoveries, including the remains of two bodies, one of then on a ceremonial bed facing an altar that appeared to be a means of communicating with the Gods and the other lying in a porcelain sarcophagus in the Inner Chamber, permitted him to piece together the whole fabric of that extraordinary civilization

one of the reviews specifically mentions that one segment concerns the idea that

"that the toilet seat is a sacred collar one must wear before shouting, down the hole, to the gods below"

enter image description here


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