BBC History Magazine
When was the first mattress made?
The oldest mattress on record dates from the Stone Age and is around 77,000 years old. Archaeologists uncovered the mattress, or its remnants, at the Sibudu Cave site in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. The mattress was made from compacted grass and a grass-like plant called sedge, and on top of it were leaves from the River Wild-quince tree, or Cryptocarya woodii.
The people who made these bedding materials probably selected them carefully: River Wild-quince leaves have chemical properties that deter insects, including mosquitoes, which would have been unwelcome visitors at this riverside cave site. Some indigenous groups in Africa still use River Wild-quince leaves for similar reasons.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the mattress was periodically burned, perhaps to cleanse it of pests or bodily fluids, before being renewed with fresh materials. At around 30cm high and up to 2 square metres in size, the mattresses were probably quite comfortable and capable of sleeping an entire family.
Sasha Handley, historian and author of Sleep in Early Modern England (Yale University Press, 2016)