The Urethane Blog

The First Mattress

Humans have slept on beds for their entire existence: cave discovery

By Ben Cost

August 17, 2020 | 10:51am Enlarge Image

Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains.

Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains. A. Kruge

It was so easy even a caveman could make it.

Humans have been sleeping in beds for nearly as long as they’ve been roaming the earth, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

In South Africa’s world-renowned Border Cave excavation site, archaeologists uncovered evidence of grass sleeping mats that date back to 200,000 years ago — more than 100,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to the study. Researchers say the discovery demonstrates “cognitive, behavioral and social complexity” more commonly observed in much newer civilizations, Science Alert reports.

Indeed, the prehistoric slumber sacks employed a surprisingly sophisticated system of grass stacked atop ash from a fireplace or burned plants, which was reportedly used to deter pests.

“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,” said lead study author Lyn Wadley, professor of archaeology at Johannesberg’s University of the Witwatersrand, said in a news release.

The Flinstone-evoking inventions also likely doubled as workspace — as evidenced by the fact that the beds contained stone shards from the tools used in their making.

Beyond being multifaceted, the ancient mattresses also provide important clues about early humans’ decorative habits. Wadley noted that “many tiny, rounded grains of red and orange ochre were found in the bedding where they may have rubbed off human skin or colored objects.”

From this one discovery alone, we can deduce that for almost as long as they’ve been alive, humans adorned their homes with ochre; knew the best spots to sleep; used their beds as work stations; and could produce fire at will and employ it as insect repellent.

“Such strategies would have had health benefits that advantaged these early communities,” said Wadley.

This isn’t the first discovery to shift modern perceptions of early people. In December, a spelunker happened across an Indonesian cave painting of a hunting scene that could be the world’s oldest story.