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Insect Repellents on Mattresses 77,000 Years Ago

Archeologists Discover plant beds in a rock shelter in South Africa.

Vegetable bed Remains discovered in the excavations of the rock shelter of Sibudu

An international team of archaeologists has discovered beds made with insect repellent plants 77,000 years ago in South Africa, 50,000 years earlier than was believed by earlier reports of preserved bedding.

The team, led by Professor Lyn Wadley, from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, in collaboration with Christopher Miller, of the University of Tubingen in Germany, Christine Sievers and Marion Bamford also Witwatersrand, and Paul Goldberg and Francesco Berna Boston University in the U.S., described the discovery in the scientific journal ‘ Science ‘.

The ancient bedding was uncovered during excavations at Sibudu a rock shelter in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), where Lyn Wadley, professor at the University of Witwatersrand, has been digging since 1998. At least 15 different layers contain bedding between 77,000 and 38,000 years.

The bedding consists of layers several inches thick compact stems and leaves of rushes, extending over at least one square meter and up to three square meters of the excavated area.

Plants in the housing floor

Christine Sievers, of the University of Witwatersrand, identify nutlets from several types of rushes used in the construction of the bedding. The bedding, which is very well preserved, consisting of a layer of reed stems and leaves fossilized covered by a thin layer of leaves, identified by botanist Marion Bamford as belonging to Cryptocarya woodii, the leaves of this tree contain chemicals insecticides suitable for repelling mosquitoes.

The selection of these leaves for the construction of bedding suggests that the early inhabitants of Sibudu had a great knowledge of the plants surrounding the shelter, and were aware of their medicinal uses.

According to Lyn Wadley, “the ancient inhabitants gathered uThongathi reeds in the river, just below the site, and available to the plants on the floor of the house. The bedding was not just used for sleeping, but also provided a comfortable surface for living and working. “

Microscopic analysis of the bedding, conducted by Christopher Miller, Professor of Geoarchaeology, University of Tübingen, suggests that the inhabitants bedding reformed repeatedly during the course of the occupation.

Microscopic analysis showed that the inhabitants of Sibudu burned the bedding after use. “They burned the bedding used possibly as a way to remove pests,” explains Miller. The preserved bedding is also associated with the remains of numerous fireplaces and ash deposits.

58,000 years ago, the number of fireplaces, bedding and ash increased dramatically; archaeologists believe that this is due to an intensive occupation. In the article, the archaeologists argue that the increased occupation corresponds to demographic changes currently in Africa 50,000 years ago, modern humans began expanding out of Africa, replacing the archaic humans in Eurasia, including Neanderthals. This discovery adds to a long list of important finds at Sibudu over the past decade, including perforated seashells, used as beads, and sharpened bone points, likely used for hunting.

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