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Saggy in the Middle? 77,000 Year-Old Mattress

Oldest Known Mattresses From South African Rock Shelter:

Early humans in South Africa were constructing sleeping mats out of local plants as many as 77,000 years ago, according to a new study. Some of these plants may have provided some protection against mosquitoes and other insects, the researchers report. Modifying one's living space, including the sleeping environment, is an important aspect of human behavior and culture. The oldest of these mats are about 77,000 years old, making them roughly contemporaneous with other South African evidence of "modern" human behavior, such as the use of shell beads, engraving, and innovative stone technology.

Modifying one's living space, including the sleeping environment, is an important aspect of human behavior and culture

The mats, discovered at the Sibudu rock shelter, are approximately 50,000 years older than other known examples of plant bedding. In their study, Lyn Wadley and colleagues in South Africa, Germany and the United States describe many thin bands of compacted grasses and other leafy plants, stacked in layers within the sediments at the Sibudu site. This three-meter thick sequence spans a period of about 77,000 to 38,000 years ago and indicates that humans were repeatedly constructing sleeping mats from plant material. These compacted plant layers may also been used as work surfaces.

The bedding may thus have offered some level of pest control

Starting around 73,000 years ago, the site's inhabitants burned the bedding periodically, perhaps to get rid of pests and garbage. Many of the plant remains are species of Cryptocarya, a genus that is used extensively in traditional medicines. One of the plant species most frequently found in the ancient bedding is Cryptocarya woodii, whose crushed leaves emit traces of chemicals that have insect-repelling properties. The bedding may thus have offered some level of pest control. The researchers also found that the bedding layers become more densely spaced starting around the 58,000-year mark, suggesting an increase in the local population.

Source: University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
 

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