Monday, October 10, 2011

World's Most Ancient Human Bedding Found

Study researcher Christopher Miller sampling sediments containing the ancient mattresses. CREDIT: Credit: Prof. Lyn Wadley via

The oldest known bedding — sleeping mats made of mosquito-repellant evergreens that are about 77,000 years old — has been discovered in a South African cave.

This use of medicinal plants, along with other artifacts at the cave, helps reveal how creative these early peoples were, researchers said.

An international team of archaeologists discovered the stack of ancient beds at Sibudu, a cave in a sandstone cliff in South Africa. They consist of compacted stems and leaves of sedges, rushes and grasses stacked in at least 15 layers within a chunk of sediment 10 feet (3 meters) thick.

"The inhabitants would have collected the sedges and rushes from along the uThongathi River, located directly below the site, and laid the plants on the floor of the shelter," said researcher Lyn Wadley, an archaeologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Modern sedges growing on the uThongathi River near Sibudu excavation site.
CREDIT: Prof. Christopher Miller via

The oldest mats the scientists discovered are approximately 50,000 years older than other known examples of plant bedding. All told, these layers reveal mat-making over a period of about 40,000 years.

"The preservation of material at Sibudu is really exceptional," said researcher Christopher Miller, a geoarchaeologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany. [See Photos of the Ancient Beds]

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