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!


ArtiFACTS: Recent News in Archaeology

Among the Headlines In Archaeology this Week:

  1. 50 Fifth Graders Participate in Urban Excavation
  2. Third Graders Get to Watch Archaeologists at Fort Hawkins
  3. University of Hawaii Manoa Department of Anthropology Gets $500,000 Award
  4. Computer Software Reveals Ancient Coastline

Click the “Read More” link below to read each news item one-by-one or the topic link above to take you directly to the item and a hyperlink to the original story and related links.

50 Fifth Graders Participate in Urban Excavation
Actually there were both fourth and fifth graders from John Muir Elementary School who teamed up with archaeologists from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington to participate in an urban dig in the Rainier Valley. Artifacts of glass, pottery, and metal have been found. Artist Donald Fels will incorporate artifacts and casts of artifacts into sculptures placed along a hillside path in the neighborhood. Students learned basic archaeological techniques, how to use maps, and how the landscape changes and develops over time; and by learning the local history, these students gained a valuable insight into history and hopefully there are a few who will take this to a life-long interest.

Third Graders Get to Watch Archaeologists at Fort Hawkins
Third Graders in the Macon, Georgia area had the opportunity to watch archaeologists at work during a dig at the historic Fort Hawkins, named for Benjamin Hawkins, the man charged with the responsibility for preventing a Creek Indian uprising and protecting local settlers. The fort was established in 1805 and was a supply hub during the War of 1812 as well as an embarkation point for soldiers headed for the First Seminole War. The fort was decommissioned in 1822. Now, a team from Lamar Institute is working to establish the fort’s original location and excavate artifacts in order to build an on-site replica of the fort.

University of Hawaii Manoa Department of Anthropology Gets $500,000 Award
The Henry Luce Foundation’s Initiative on East and Southeast Asian Archeology and Early History is making the award of $500,000 to the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Department of Anthropology and it will help fund their Asian archaeology program.

Computer Software Reveals Ancient Coastline

The changing shape of Australasia can now be seen in a new interactive digital map that mimics the rise and fall of sea levels over the past 100,000 years.

The map also has pop-up images and text about key archaeological sites and possible routes humans took from Asia to Australia during the last ice age.

Matthew Coller of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia developed the map, based on Google Earth, but with the added dimension of time. He presented a paper on the topic at the Australasian Archaeological Conference titled, SahulTime: a Web-delieverable Temporal GIS for Archaeological Visualizations. The map itself is fun, and I spent a few minutes playing around with it. If I were instructing a class on Hominid Evolution, I think this is one I’d like to put up on the overhead to demonstrate the changes in sea level over the last 100,000 years.