Archaeologists found the world’s oldest bed made from grass and ash in a South African cave. The cave, that was used on and off by humans for around 230,000 years, is located close to the border between South Africa and Swaziland.
They found traces of grass and ash that made up the Stone Age bedding from approximately 200,000 years ago and the mixture was created to keep the bedbugs away. This is a pretty significant discovery because prior to this, the oldest evidence of humans using plants as their bedding dated back to about 77,000 years ago.
The researchers performed microscopic and chemical analysis on the bed in the South African cave and found that it contained traces of several different types of leaved grasses, such as the Panicum maximum tufted grass which, surprisingly, still grows directly in front of the cave where the bed was found. Additionally, the archaeologists discovered charred leftovers from a camphor bush which is a scented plant that people living in some parts of Africa still use to keep the bedbugs away.
As for the ash that the ancient humans also used to make their beds, the researchers explained, “Ash was possibly raked from hearths to create a clean, odour-controlling base for bedding,” adding, “Ash repels crawling insects, which cannot easily move through fine powder because it blocks their breathing and biting apparatus and eventually leaves them dehydrated.”
“People also used medicinal plants to repel insects. Sometimes they burned their grass bedding and this would have killed pests and cleaned the site,” noted Dr. Lyn Wadley, who is an archaeologist at the Wits University’s Evolutionary Studies Institute in Johannesburg.
The Stone Age bed wasn’t the only thing that they found in the cave, as “stone tools and, possibly, ground red and orange ochre to color objects and perhaps their skin” were also unearthed as stated by Dr. Wadley. Pictures of their findings can be seen here.
According to the researchers, the discovery of the Stone Age bed indicates “an early potential for the cognitive, behavioural, and social complexity of Stone Age humans that became more apparent from around 100,000 years ago.” Dr. Wadley went into further details by explaining, “Before 200,000 years ago, close to the origin of our species, people could produce fire at will.” “They used fire ash and medicinal plants to maintain clean, pest-free camps.” “The simple strategies we have seen at the Border Cave give us a glimpse into the life ways of people in the deep past.” Their findings were published in the journal Science and can be read in full here.