Humans made bedding 77,000 years ago

By AAP with AG staff 9 December 2011
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Early humans made comfy mattresses with piles of plant leaves and stems, which also kept the bugs away.

HUMANS WERE MAKING THEMSELVES comfy on plant mattresses as long as 77,000 years ago, a study has found.

Scientists discovered early evidence of bedding made from compacted stems and leaves at a rock shelter in South Africa.

At least three different layers at the Sibudu site contained bed remains, left by generations of people who slept there between 38,000 and 77,000 years ago.

Ancient sleeping mats well preserved

The oldest of the sleeping mats was especially well preserved, consisting of fossilised sedge stems and leaves covered by a paper-thin leaf layer.

As well as providing a place to sleep, the leaves contained insecticide chemicals that would have kept mosquitoes at bay.

“The selection of these leaves for the construction of bedding suggests that the early inhabitants of Sibudu had an intimate knowledge of the plants surrounding the shelter, and were aware of their medicinal uses,” said team leader Professor Lyn Wadley, from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

The compacted plant layers may also have been used as work surfaces, said the researchers who report their findings in the journal Science.

The discovery is 50,000 years older than the most ancient previous examples of preserved bedding.

Early humans regularly changed their beds

Analysis of the bedding indicates it was repeatedly refurbished during the rock shelter’s occupation. It also showed that after around 73,000 years ago, the inhabitants regularly burned their bedding after use.

“They lit the used bedding on fire, possibly as a way to remove pests,” said co-author Dr Christopher Miller, from the University of Tubingen in Germany.

“This would have prepared the site for future occupation and represents a novel use of fire for the maintenance of an occupation site.”

Bedding layers became more densely packed from around 58,000 years ago onwards, suggesting an increase in population.

This was shortly before early modern humans began expanding out of Africa to colonise Europe and Asia.