Not only are the beds about 77 000 years old, but it appears they were also designed to ward off insects like mosquitoes. The fossilized material has been found at an ancient cliff shelter known as Sibudu, which is near to Durban on our east coast, and continues to fuel the debate that modern man evolved out of Africa.
It appears our ancestors were into décor too. New research shows that they were sprucing up their homes with grasses and leaves we still use today.
The University of the Witwatersrand’s Lyn Wadley has been leading an international team of researchers that have said the beds, made from an assortment of grasses and other materials, and believed to be used as bedding and work surfaces, substantiate other findings that show modern man evolved in Africa.
The research has just been published in the journal, Science, and may indicate early man was much smarter than had been previously credited:
Early use of herbal medicines may have awarded selective advantages to humans, and the use of such plants implies a new dimension to the behaviour of early humans at this time.
Wadley continued that some of the plants used to make the beds contained elements that repelled flies and mosquitoes that may have carried diseases.
She expected that the research team would find evidence that the people of Sibudu also used plants as medicines.
Sibudu has also produced some of the oldest arrow heads
The archaeological site is one of the most significant in South Africa, and has produced the world’s oldest yet discovered bone arrowheads that are 65 000 years old, which indicate advanced technology use for people living around that time.
Anthropologist, Marlize Lombard, from the University of Johannesburg:
[The weapons and bedding] show that people then already had very advanced ways of thinking about things, doing things [and that they] did not always choose the simplest solutions.
Another researcher, Nick Barton, who works for the Oxford Institute of Archaeology, and has completed a lot of his own research in more northern parts of Africa, sees a bigger picture beginning to form.
Barton helped to uncover some of the world’s earliest shell ornaments in a limestone cave in Morocco and says it’s all “sort of building up to present a very coherent picture” of how modern man evolved.
The link, according to Wadley and her team: the cryptocarya plant the Sibudu people used is still used in traditional painkillers and other medicines today, and it’s also the basis of some modern cancer treatments. To this day, mats are still woven from plant materials for bedding and work surfaces around the country.
The new mats are also some 50 000 years older than other similar examples from around the country and other parts of the world like Israel, Spain and other parts of Europe.
Unfortunately there is also a proposed housing development very close to the site, which, if it goes ahead, would effectively destroy the opportunity to study more about how our ancestors lived.