Humans Prepared Beds to Sleep on Right at the Dawn of Our Species Over 200 000 Years Ago

Related Articles

Related Articles

Researchers in South Africa’s Border Cave, a well-known archaeological site perched on a cliff between eSwatini (Swaziland) and KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, have found evidence that people have been using grass bedding to create comfortable areas for sleeping and working on at least 200 000 years ago.

These beds, consisting of sheaves of grass of the broad-leafed Panicoideae subfamily were placed near the back of the cave on ash layers. The layers of ash was used to protect the people against crawling insects while sleeping. Today, the bedding layers are visually ephemeral traces of silicified grass, but they can be identified using high magnification and chemical characterisation.

The Border Cave study was conducted by a multidisciplinary team from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, the CNRS (University of Bordeaux), and Université Côte d’Azur, France, the Instituto Superior de Estudios Sociales, Tucumán, Argentina, and the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, Belgium. The research was published in the high impact journal Science.

 

“We speculate that laying grass bedding on ash was a deliberate strategy, not only to create a dirt-free, insulated base for the bedding, but also to repel crawling insects,” says Professor Lyn Wadley, principal researcher and lead author.

Image Credit : D. Stratford

“Sometimes the ashy foundation of the bedding was a remnant of older grass bedding that had been burned to clean the cave and destroy pests. On other occasions, wood ash from fireplaces was also used as the clean surface for a new bedding layer.”

Several cultures have used ash as an insect repellent because insects cannot easily move through fine powder. Ash blocks insects’ breathing and biting apparatus, and eventually dehydrates them. Tarchonanthus (camphor bush) remains were identified on the top of the grass from the oldest bedding in the cave. This plant is still used to deter insects in rural parts of East Africa.

“We know that people worked as well as slept on the grass surface because the debris from stone tool manufacture is mixed with the grass remains. Also, many tiny, rounded grains of red and orange ochre were found in the bedding where they may have rubbed off human skin or coloured objects,” says Wadley.

Modern hunter-gatherer camps have fires as focal points; people regularly sleep alongside them and perform domestic tasks in social contexts. People at Border Cave also lit fires regularly, as seen by stacked fireplaces throughout the sequence dated between about 200 000 and 38 000 years ago.

“Our research shows that before 200 000 years ago, close to the origin of our species, people could produce fire at will, and they used fire, ash, and medicinal plants to maintain clean, pest-free camps. Such strategies would have had health benefits that advantaged these early communities.”

Although hunter-gatherers tend to be mobile and seldom stay in one place for more than a few weeks, cleansing camps had the potential to extend potential occupancy.

UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND

Header Image Credit : Lyn Wadley/Wits University

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Karahundj – The Ancient Speaking Stones

Karahundj, also called Carahunge and Zorats Karer is an ancient stone complex, constructed on a mountain plateau in the Syunik Province of Armenia.

Palaeontologists Establish Spinosaurus Was Real Life ‘River Monster’

A discovery of more than a thousand dinosaur teeth, by a team of researchers from the University of Portsmouth, proves beyond reasonable doubt that Spinosaurus, the giant predator made famous by the movie Jurassic Park III as well as the BBC documentary Planet Dinosaur was an enormous river-monster.

Archaeology Uncovers Infectious Disease Spread – 4000 Years Ago

New bioarchaeology research from a University of Otago PhD candidate has shown how infectious diseases may have spread 4000 years ago, while highlighting the dangers of letting such diseases run rife.

Buhen – The Sunken Egyptian Fortress

Buhen was an ancient Egyptian settlement and fortress, located on the West bank of the Nile in present-day Sudan.

The Modhera Sun Temple

The Sun Temple is an ancient Hindu temple complex located on a latitude of 23.6° (near Tropic of Cancer) on the banks of the Pushpavati river at Modhera in Gujarat, India.

Scientists Hunt For Lost WW2 Bunkers Designed to Hold Off Invasion

New research published by scientists from Keele, Staffordshire and London South Bank Universities, has unveiled extraordinary new insights into a forgotten band of secret fighters created to slow down potential invaders during World War Two.

Sea Ice Triggered the Little Ice Age

A new study finds a trigger for the Little Ice Age that cooled Europe from the 1300s through mid-1800s, and supports surprising model results suggesting that under the right conditions sudden climate changes can occur spontaneously, without external forcing.

Venus’ Ancient Layered, Folded Rocks Point to Volcanic Origin

An international team of researchers has found that some of the oldest terrain on Venus, known as tesserae, have layering that seems consistent with volcanic activity. The finding could provide insights into the enigmatic planet's geological history.

Popular stories

The Secret Hellfire Club and the Hellfire Caves

The Hellfire Club was an exclusive membership-based organisation for high-society rakes, that was first founded in London in 1718, by Philip, Duke of Wharton, and several of society's elites.

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.