Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Name of book/short story ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: Name of book/short story
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: professorman-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 16 May 2006 10:53 PDT
Expires: 15 Jun 2006 10:53 PDT
Question ID: 729409
I am looking for the name and author of a book/short story that I read
in elementary school (4th grade). The year I read it would have been
about 1985. The story was set in the future and it was about
archeologists (perhaps from another planet) exploring Earth. It is
quite humorous because they make false assumptions about everything
that they find. Here are some of the details that I remember:
They think that a toilet is a music box
They think that a toilet seat cover is a ceremonial headdress
They think that a highway interchange is some form of art
The Earth was destroyed by massive amounts of third class mail
( was 20 years ago so I am a bit fuzzy on this particular
Subject: Re: Name of book/short story
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 16 May 2006 11:18 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
I am confident that you're remembering "Motel of the Mysteries," by
David Macaulay, which was first published in 1979. In the early 1980s,
when I first discovered this book, I was so tickled that I bought
multiple copies of it as Christmas gifts for my family and friends.

"Gathering a small team of archaeologists and assistants, including
his wife, Carson sets to work on the site to uncover the secrets of
Usa. After three years of excavation, the site is uncovered fully and
Carson begins to understand some of the strange burial practices of
the citizens of Usa. Once the work is complete, Carson's findings,
including the Sacred Urn and Music Box (a toilet) are displayed in a
special Yank museum...

The 'Treasures' section explains in full detail the ceremonial items
used in Usa burials. The wacky, absolutely outrageous functions given
to each item (such as the toilet seat passed off as a headdress) keep
the reader glued until the last page."

Amazon: Reviews for Motel of the Mysteries

I believe that "Motel of the Mysteries" may have been inspired by
"Body Ritual among the Nacirema," an article which appeared in a
journal called "The American Anthropologist" in 1956. This has been
reprinted countless times. I first encountered it in the 1960s, in a
sociology textbook:

Ohio University: Body Ritual among the Nacirema

My Google search strategy:

Google Web Search: "motel of the mysteries" macaulay

I hope this is the right book! If it is not, please request
clarification, and I'll gladly resume the quest.

Best regards,
professorman-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $2.00
WOW!!! I can't believe that you found it!!! I will be purchasing a
copy imediately. Thank you (again)!!!

Subject: Re: Name of book/short story
From: pinkfreud-ga on 16 May 2006 12:08 PDT
Thanks for the five stars and the nice tip!

Subject: Re: Name of book/short story
From: markvmd-ga on 16 May 2006 13:26 PDT
Other Macaulay works are as good. "Castle" came in very handy when
touring Spain and Italy's castles and "MIll" gives new appreciation to
those structures as well. And "Unbuilding" disassembles the Empire
State Building for overseas shipment.
Subject: Re: Name of book/short story
From: myoarin-ga on 16 May 2006 14:01 PDT
Delightful book!  I gave it to someone too.  Because I found it while
traveling in the States, I especially remembered the "motel point" (my
quotes) and the archaeologists' wondering at the significance of the
folded point on the end of the toilet paper  - having just observed
such, myself.
Subject: Re: Name of book/short story
From: tr1234-ga on 16 May 2006 15:49 PDT
This is indeed a great book. I had a friend in college who was an
archeology scholar who just loved this book because of all the
erroneous conclusions the archeologists in the book made about the
site. I remember my friend got a special kick out how the characters
in the book conclude that so many bathroom items--especially the
toilet seats and toilet brushes--were "ceremonial items"; apparently,
my friend recognized that in the real world, archeologist have a
tendency to call "ceremonial" any artifact for which they can't figure
out the use...

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy