Many years ago, while in a college cultural anthropology class, I read several articles designed to demonstrate that looking at a culture from the outside often gives a distorted picture of that culture or people. My favorite example was Body Ritual Among the Nacirema, a facinating look from the late '50s at a culture - familiar to most of us - from the point of view of someone completely unfamiliar with said culture. I highly recommend reading it (and let me know if you can't identify the people being discussed). In that same class, we read another essay that purported to be an extraterrestrial's view of Human society, indicating how Humans worship balls of all sorts. Our television and in-person gatherings are often devoted to balls, as is a large percentage of time and/or space on our news-dissemination services. In fact, there's apparently one ball-focused gathering that takes place on a particular Sunday in February when millions upon millions of Humans from all over the world (although most particularly in the central part of the North American continent) stop all other life activities and worship a brown oblong ball and the priests who are permitted to handle it. Facinating. (I tried to find the essay for you, but googling "worship" and "balls" doesn't really give the result I was looking for - don't try it at work!)
These essays and others like them have stuck with me for years. When I visited Egypt, I wondered how much of the interpretation modern scholars impose on the tomb and temple paintings is as "accurate" as ball worship and the shrines of the Nacirema. Most of the prominant scholars are separated by distance, religion and culture, but also by thousands of years of development and change. Did they take these images completely out of context, simply because much of the other cultural indicators were lost?
What hope, then, for future generations to understand American society, when books like these are found by our distant descendants?