Anthropologists find evidence of earliest “Double-Dog Dare:” over 164,000 yrs ago!


One of my favorite movies during the holidays is the 1983 classic “A Christmas Story” depicting the schemes of Ralphie Parker as he tries to convince Santa Clause (and his parents) to bring him a Red Ryder BB gun, which every adult (including the department store Santa) warns, “you’ll put your eye out.” In this classic film, a bunch of kids gather around a flagpole, bundled in their winter coats, and dare one of their peers to lick the pole. It’s below freezing. The result, of course, is that the aptly named character, Flick, sticks his tongue to the pole. Where it gets stuck.

Flick: Are you kidding? Stick my tongue to that stupid pole? That’s dumb!
Schwartz: That’s ’cause you know it’ll stick!
Flick: You’re full of it!
Schwartz: Oh yeah?
Flick: Yeah!
Schwartz: Well I double-DOG-dare ya!
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] NOW it was serious. A double-dog-dare. What else was there but a “triple dare ya”? And then, the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple-dog-dare.
Schwartz: I TRIPLE-dog-dare ya!
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette by skipping the triple dare and going right for the throat!

As kids, most of us have been witness or party to the Double-Dog-Dare (and a few unfortunates may have been subjected to the “Triple-Dog-Dare”). But where does it come from? How long have people been “daring” each other? Before the DVD player and VCR, was there a “Jackass” culture that simply lacked a reality-television to properly proliferate?

Anthropologists have shed some new light on this enigma. Read below the fold for more!

Listening to Morning Edition on NPR this morning, between guilt-ridden appeals for pledges (its that time for my local NPR station, ugh…), I heard the following story: Scientists Make Rare Find in S. African Cave.

What was that find, you ask? A petroglyph or pictograph depicting an early human with tongue affixed to a rock while fellow hunter-gatherers look on? Not quite. Admittedly, I’ve taken some literary license with my blog-take on this story. But throughout the broadcast, one thing kept coming to mind: who was the first person to look at a clam or oyster after prying open the shell and think to himself, “I wonder what this tastes like?”

You see, the scientists above are anthropologists who explored a cave on Pinnacle Point in South Africa on a rocky bluff near the ocean. In this cave, the anthropologists (among them Curtis Marean of Arizona State University) discovered evidence of shellfish and whale used for food, small stone blades, and red ochre with grinding marks where it had been used to create powder to mix a paint. All dated to over 164,000 years ago.

Not only do we see them eating shellfish, but there is a whale barnacle, a special species of barnacle that only appears on the skin of a whale,” Marean said. “So that’s a clear piece of evidence that they brought in a chunk of whale skin and blubber and ate it at that site, so what we have is the earliest dated systematic use of marine resources.

I missed it during the broadcast, but the online, text version of the story quotes Jonathan Swift’s line, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster” and I’m happy to discover I’m not the only person that was pondering the motivations of the first person to slurp an oyster from its shell.

It’s humorous to think of people standing around, 164,000 years ago, bodies painted red from the ochre paint, urging a peer holding a half an oyster shell to “do it!” Perhaps the first person to slurp an oyster was also the first in his clan to paint his body red. I’ll never look at an oyster bar or hors devours during happy hour the same again.

But the true motivation behind that first oyster was likely hunger. Perhaps someone in antiquity observed a sea bird or a starfish dining on an oyster (or other shellfish) and realized its potential as a food source seeing an abundance of bedded oysters or dug for clams or mussels in shallows during low tide. I’ve heard arguments from several anthropologists and archaeologists that a move to shellfish and seafood in the human diet during antiquity may have contributed greatly to our evolution to homo sapiens due to increases in Omega-3 fatty acids and various proteins. Terra Amata near Nice in France is said to have evidence of shellfish consumption by hominids at around 300,000 years ago, so the Pinnacle Point find may not be the first human shellfish use, but it is certainly among the earliest sites where we have evidence for it.

Jonathan Swift’s “bold man” may not have been among these early humans, but whoever he was, I’m glad he took that Double-Dog-Dare! I’ve been a fan of oysters and clams my whole life and I try to have a fried oyster sandwich or steamed clams whenever I return to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia where I grew up. If you’ve never tried an oyster or clams, I recommend butter sauce after steaming. Dee-lish!