Who Ate the First Oyster? By Cody Cassidy

Who Ate The First Oyster? By Cody Cassidy
It wasn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger, that’s for sure.

Here’s a 2020 tome from Cody Cassidy that takes a look through some of history’s firsts. Not just about oysters, the book examines the derring-do of this and that.

It’s a kind of Atlas Obscura of firsts, with intriguing insights into what made individuals from aeons ago make certain decisions. Interesting? Yes!

Who Ate The First Oyster? The Extraordinary People Behind the Greatest Firsts in History

Right, the book starts with Cassidy explaining his reasons for sifting acknowledging prehistory geniuses.

And he makes it clear, rather passionately, the “cavemen/women” of the past weren’t blockheaded, grunting buffoons.

We often have this image of cavemen with clubs knuckle-dragging about the place and going, “Ug!”

But they had to be constantly aware of their surroundings in a daily battle for survival. Had they failed, none of us would be here. We’d be non-existent.

That means there were clever clogs types who went about inventing things we now take for granted. Such as the wheel, fire, and indulging in certain foods.

Human prehistory sort of starts around five million years back, with the use of stone tools documented around three and a bit million years ago. There were three periods during this time:

  • Paleolithic (Old Stone Age)
  • Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age)
  • Neolithic (New Stone Age)

Basically, a lot of stones were present during that slog. And what Cassidy does is take us through a historical and scientific journey across some intriguing firsts.

One of the most fascinating of the lot is the humble oyster and how our species came about to trying the things out.

A mixture of derring-do and, probably, learning from watching other animals trying out the shellfish dish.

Now, despite the book’s claims it unveils “the firsts” from history, obviously we can’t know for sure exactly who did things for the first time.

But archaeological records and other scientific discoveries allow us to gain an understanding of distant beings who likely did it all for the first time.

This leads Cassidy to provide a name for each individual who may have done something or other. For which he goes, “I’ll call her Ma.” Or some such.

That’s for the, likely, woman who invented a sling to carry her baby around.

Initially we found Cassidy’s system of naming individuals a bit smug and it started to annoy us. In a proper teeth grinding way (we are silly sorts).

But its a concept that does lead to a big payoff in chapter 13, when he reveals the first person whose name we know—from all of history!

That may seem an easy undertaking on a surface level, but in prehistory around 1.3 billion Homo sapiens lived and died.

And because writing wasn’t around (only cave paintings), we don’t know any of their names. If they had any. Perhaps they were all called Ug.

Anyway, writing wasn’t a thing and took a long time to develop into the system we all know and use today.

The concept of writing developed in Mesopotamia over five millennia from a Sumerian set of pictographs.

Basically, it began as a system of tokens. Eventually, the system developed into Incans creating symbols to impress into the tokens.

And this, five thousand years ago, is how we have our first human name from history—Kushim. He was an accountant. That’s hundreds of years before Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Other chapters explore the nature of cave paintings, with a particularly fascinating account of the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in the Ardèche region of France.

Discovered in December 1994, it’s home to some of the best preserved ancient artwork. And it dates back Aurignacian period around 32,000 years back.

We found this bit so intriguing we’re going to go off and watch director Werner Herzog’s documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

For Cassidy, this artwork is at such a high standard the various pieces represent history’s first masterpieces.

And this is, we think, one of the main purposes of Who Ate The First Oyster? Its account of 17 firsts don’t go into too much detail.

In fact, each chapter would be an effective standalone history book.

But what Cassidy does do is make you desire to know more—to go off and dig up further information about the topics he covers.

This is similar to E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World. Bite-size information, sure, but enough to urge incurably curious people off into a world of discovery.

So it’s an easy read, is Who Ate The First Oyster? Accessible. But it’ll expand your mind about the distant past and the great achievements that paved the way towards this here 2020.


  1. That Herzog cave painting documentary is definitely worth watching – I caught up with it a little while back. (I tend to run a bit hot and cold on Herzog – he’s good, but a bit OTT sometimes. He was brilliantly parodied in Borderlands 2, where one mission involves being directed by a Germanic documentary-maker who offers pretentious and over-intellectualised commentary on the player actions.)

    Who did what first is an extremely interesting. I still find it intriguing that the oldest profession is accountant, not the one everybody usually thinks of. Couldn’t speculate on oysters. I guess it was whoever was best at pinching their nose and gulping down a congealed glob of mucus. I think that’s what oysters are made of anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll be hunting it down pronto for a viewing. Three day weekend for us limeys coming up. Bank holiday! Although I do find Herzog’s films on and off. Grizzly Man is my favourite work of his.

      There are other firsts I’d like to know. Who did the first skydive? Actually, just looked it up. A French chap in 1797. What a legend.

      But the first person to try pole vaulting. You’d have to have a warped mind to persevere at that one.

      Liked by 1 person

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