BBC History Magazine

When was the first mattress made?

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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)

 ?? ?? A section of the oldest mattress on record (above, wrapped in a plaster jacket), which was made from compacted grass, sedge and leaves
A section of the oldest mattress on record (above, wrapped in a plaster jacket), which was made from compacted grass, sedge and leaves

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