Thursday, December 15, 2011

World’s Oldest Known Mattress Unearthed

If your mattress is feeling a little lumpy or saggy, then take heart. It may feel like you have the world’s oldest, ickiest mattress, but you’re better off than you think. Archaeologists have just unearthed the world’s oldest mattress, and it’s not a pretty sight. Even cheap foam mattresses sound appealing compared to the thought of living in a cave. In 75,000BC they didn’t have places where you could order discount mattresses online. They didn’t even have traditional mail order, for that matter.

Photograph courtesy Marion Bamford via Science/AAAS
The mattress, which is made of layers of reeds and rushes, was discovered underneath a pile of bedding made from grass and leafy plants. The discovery was made at the Sibudu Cave Site in KwaZulu-Natal, and the oldest materials date back 77,000 years. That makes this mattress 50,000 years older than the one that previously held the “oldest bedding” title.

Photo Credit
Our 77,000 year-old ancestors were pretty clever too. The ancient people that lived in the cave made bedding out of insect repelling greenery that would ward off mosquitoes, flies, and other bugs. This is the first evidence of our ancestors using plants for medicinal purposes, and as an insecticide. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Sibudu dwellers learned how to protect themselves from insects, though. Living in a dark, damp cave isn’t exactly a fun experience, and if they hadn’t managed to ward off the insects, they’d have been forced out of the cave by rot, decay, and disease pretty quickly.

Credit:  Prof. Lyn Wadley
What makes the mattresses at Sibudu special is that there’s evidence that the residents of the cave stayed there for a long time. Hunter gatherers in other parts of the world would just move on when their home became rotten and bug infested, but the Sibudu cave dwellers would burn their old bedding, and then make more. They’d re-use the same cave for thousands of years, each time re-building a mattress and a layer of bedding big enough for an entire family to sleep on.

sanbeiji's/CC BY-SA 2.0
Stone Age Breakfast in Bed
While these ancient cleaning habits sound unfamiliar, there are a few things that we have in common with the Sibudu cave dwellers. For one, we have a penchant for breakfast in bed. The archaeologists have found small tools and bone fragments in amongst the bedding. Presumably, they could get away with eating in the cave because of the frequent replacement of the bedding. A few scraps of meat left lying around might smell bad, and could attract vermin, or at the very least encourage birds to come and try to share the cave, but they wouldn’t get to stay there long because they’d be driven out by the fires.

So, next time you’re shopping for discount mattresses online, spare a thought for your cave-dwelling ancestors. They had to build their own mattresses, and make their own bedding! When it decayed, they had to clear out their bedrooms, and re-make the entire thing from scratch. These days, we have it easy!

This article was written by Amy Fowler on behalf of The Original Factory Shop, who offer discounted mattresses online and other cut-price goods.