December 9, 2011
Ancient Bug-Repellant Plant Bedding Discovered
Researchers report that they have uncovered and analyzed human bedding believed to be 77,000 years old. The bedding material gives a look into how humans lived in South Africa.
Lyn Wadley of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa says, “Domestic activities, like preparing and destroying plant bedding, can provide important information.”Some of the important information provided in the plant-based bedding materials, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF), are how settlements changed over the years and even the demography of the user.
The bedding material itself contains stems and leaves of sedges and rushes. The fossilized remains are so well preserved that scientists can see the vein patterns and pores that are found in the leaf material.
Scientists speculate that the bedding was used for more than just sleeping. Besides sleeping, the researchers think that the bedding material was also used as a work surface, much like today.
Some of the leaf material analyzed has been found to be medicinal. According to Wadley, “Since leaves can simply be used to add comfort to sedge bedding we were even more surprised when we discovered the leaves used to have insecticidal properties."
The plant leaf they discovered within the bedding was Cryptocarya woodii. This particular plant contains larvicide and insecticide. This type of leaf would help keep out unwanted insects in the bedding while other compounds affect the breeding rate of certain insects.
Besides keeping out insects with chemicals, the researchers believe the early humans burned their bedmats periodically. This would help to keep out more insects and possibly even rodents from the old decaying layers of the bedding.
The NSF notes that the timing was perfect for this site. The property that this site is located on has plans to become a large housing tract near the Sidubu rock. This new construction would permanently destroy any evidence that remains at the site.
Over the years, archaeologists have found perforated seashells used as money, and sharpened bone points for fishing.
The research is published in the journal Science on Friday 9, December, 2011.
Image 1: Plant bedding was found at the Sibudu rock shelter in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Researchers found at least 15 layers of sediment containing plant bedding, dated between 77,000 and 38,000 years ago. The site has been undergoing digging since 1998. Credit: Lyn Wadley, Wits University
Image 2: Researchers surmise plant sedges were used to repel mosquitoes from the Sibudu rock shelter site in South Africa, which is near the UThongathi River. This is an image of fossilized leaves found at the site. Credit: Lyn Wadley, Wits University
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