From “77,000-Year-Old Evidence for ‘Bedding’ and Use of Medicinal Plants Uncovered at South African Rock Shelter” (ScienceDaily, Dec. 8, 2011), we learn:
An international team of archaeologists, with the participation of Christopher Miller, junior professor at the University of Tübingen, is reporting 77,000-year-old evidence for preserved plant bedding and the use of insect-repelling plants in a rock shelter in South Africa. This discovery is 50,000 years older than earlier reports of preserved bedding and provides a fascinating insight into the behavioural practices of early modern humans in southern Africa.
The oldest evidence for bedding at the site is particularly well-preserved, and consists of a layer of fossilized sedge stems and leaves, overlain by a tissue-paper-thin layer of leaves, identified by botanist Marion Bamford as belonging to Cryptocarya woodii, or River Wild-quince. The leaves of this tree contain chemicals that are insecticidal, and would be suitable for repelling mosquitoes. “The selection of these leaves for the construction of bedding suggests that the inhabitants of Sibudu had an intimate knowledge of the plants surrounding the shelter, and were aware of their medicinal uses. Herbal medicines would have provided advantages for early human health, and the use of insect-repelling plants adds a new dimension to our understanding of human behaviour 77,000 years ago” said Lyn Wadley, honorary professor at the University of the Witwatersrand.
“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. The bedding was not just used for sleeping, but would have provided a comfortable surface for living and working,” said Wadley. Microscopic analysis of the bedding, conducted by Christopher Miller, junior-professor for geoarchaeology at the University of Tübingen, suggests that the inhabitants repeatedly refurbished the bedding during the course of occupation.
Actually, the original researcher who discovered the site had first been alerted by the discarded labels and packaging from very early offerings by Totally Natural! Bedding and Bug Off! (Organic) “It’s hard to argue with that, she told the media.” 😉