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At Sibudu Cave, the Oldest Known Early Bedding and Use of Medicinal Plants (Circa 75,000 BCE)

Sediments containing ancient mattresses at Sibudu Caves.  Photo by Lyn Wadley. (Click on image to view larger.)

In December 2011 Archaeologist Lyn Wadley of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, and team, reported the discovery at Sibudu Cave of the oldest known early bedding and use of medicinal plants:

"Middle Stone Age Bedding Construction and Settlement Patterns at Sibudu, South Africa," Science, 334, no. 6061, 9 December 2011, 1388-1391. 

The abstract of this paper published in Science is unusually accessible and informative, thus I quote verbatim:

"The Middle Stone Age (MSA) is associated with early behavioral innovations, expansions of modern humans within and out of Africa, and occasional population bottlenecks. Several innovations in the MSA are seen in an archaeological sequence in the rock shelter Sibudu (South Africa). At ~77,000 years ago, people constructed plant bedding from sedges and other monocotyledons topped with aromatic leaves containing insecticidal and larvicidal chemicals. Beginning at ~73,000 years ago, bedding was burned, presumably for site maintenance. By ~58,000 years ago, bedding construction, burning, and other forms of site use and maintenance intensified, suggesting that settlement strategies changed. Behavioral differences between ~77,000 and 58,000 years ago may coincide with population fluctuations in Africa.

First paragraph of text (footnotes removed):

"Genetic and phenotypic (skull) data indicate that after 80 thousand years ago (ka), human populations went through bottlenecks, isolations, and subsequent expansions. Concurrently, the Middle Stone Age (MSA) of South Africa witnessed a variety of emerging behavioral practices by anatomically modern humans, including use of shell beads and engraving , innovative stone technology, the creation and use of compound adhesives, heat-treatment of rock, and circumstantial evidence for snares and bows and arrows. Less emphasis has been placed on innovations in domestic organization and settlement strategies, which might also have been influenced by major demographic changes that were occurring in Africa. Here, we present geoarchaeological and archaeobotanical evidence from the South African rock shelter Sibudu for changing domestic practices in the form of construction of plant bedding starting at ~77 ka, approximately 50,000 years earlier than records elsewhere. Most evidence for bedding in the Pleistocene has been inferential, except for that from Esquilleu Cave, Spain; Strathalan B Cave, South Africa, dated 29 to 26 ka; and Ohalo II, Israel, dated to 23 ka."