Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

77,000-year-old evidence for 'bedding' and use of medicinal plants uncovered at South African rock shelter

Date:
December 8, 2011
Source:
University of Tübingen
Summary:
An international team of researchers has discovered the earliest evidence for the intentional construction of plant "bedding." The 77,000-year-old evidence for preserved plant bedding and the use of insect-repelling plants was discovered in a rock shelter in South Africa.

Prof. Christopher Miller sampling sediments in order to make geological thin sections.
Credit: Prof. Lyn Wadley

Researchers have discovered the earliest evidence for the intentional construction of plant "bedding."

An international team of archaeologists, with the participation of Christopher Miller, junior professor at the University of Tübingen, is reporting 77,000-year-old evidence for preserved plant bedding and the use of insect-repelling plants in a rock shelter in South Africa. This discovery is 50,000 years older than earlier reports of preserved bedding and provides a fascinating insight into the behavioural practices of early modern humans in southern Africa.

The team, led by Lyn Wadley of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in collaboration with Christopher Miller (University of Tübingen, Germany), Christine Sievers and Marion Bamford (University of the Witwatersrand), and Paul Goldberg and Francesco Berna (Boston University, USA), is reporting the discovery in the journal Science, available online this week.

The ancient bedding was uncovered during excavations at Sibudu rock shelter (KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa), where Prof. Wadley has been digging since 1998. At least 15 different layers at the site contain plant bedding, dated between 77,000 and 38,000 years ago. The bedding consists of centimetre-thick layers of compacted stems and leaves of sedges and rushes, extending over at least one square meter and up to three square meters of the excavated area. Christine Sievers, of the University of the Witwatersrand, was able to identify several types of sedges and rushes used in the construction of the bedding.

The oldest evidence for bedding at the site is particularly well-preserved, and consists of a layer of fossilized sedge stems and leaves, overlain by a tissue-paper-thin layer of leaves, identified by botanist Marion Bamford as belonging to Cryptocarya woodii, or River Wild-quince. The leaves of this tree contain chemicals that are insecticidal, and would be suitable for repelling mosquitoes. "The selection of these leaves for the construction of bedding suggests that the inhabitants of Sibudu had an intimate knowledge of the plants surrounding the shelter, and were aware of their medicinal uses. Herbal medicines would have provided advantages for early human health, and the use of insect-repelling plants adds a new dimension to our understanding of human behaviour 77,000 years ago" said Lyn Wadley, honorary professor at the University of the Witwatersrand.

"The inhabitants would have collected the sedges and rushes from along the uThongathi River, located directly below the site, and laid the plants on the floor of the shelter. The bedding was not just used for sleeping, but would have provided a comfortable surface for living and working," said Wadley. Microscopic analysis of the bedding, conducted by Christopher Miller, junior-professor for geoarchaeology at the University of Tübingen, suggests that the inhabitants repeatedly refurbished the bedding during the course of occupation.

The microscopic analysis also demonstrated that after 73,000 years ago, the inhabitants of Sibudu regularly burned the bedding after use. "They lit the used bedding on fire, possibly as a way to remove pests. This would have prepared the site for future occupation and represents a novel use of fire for the maintenance of an occupation site," said Miller.

The preserved bedding is also associated with the remains of numerous fireplaces and ash dumps. Beginning at 58,000 years ago, the number of hearths, bedding and ash dumps increases dramatically. The archaeologists believe that this is a result of increased occupation of the site. In the article, the archaeologists argue that the increased occupation may correspond with changing demographics within Africa at the time. By around 50,000 years ago, modern humans began expanding out of Africa, eventually replacing archaic forms of humans in Eurasia, including the Neanderthals.

This discovery adds to a long list of important finds at Sibudu over the past decade, including perforated seashells, believed to have been used as beads, and sharpened bone points, likely used for hunting. Wadley and others have also presented early evidence from the site for the development of bow and arrow technology, the use of snares and traps for hunting and the production of glue for hafting stone tools.

The discovery is particularly well timed, since future work at the site may be in jeopardy. Local officials are planning the construction of large housing tracts near Sibudu that would irreparably damage the site and prevent future excavation. Wadley and her colleagues hope that this discovery will emphasize the importance of Sibudu as an irreplaceable cultural resource for South Africa and the rest of the world.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Tübingen. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lyn Wadley, Christine Sievers, Marion Bamford, Paul Goldberg, Francesco Berna, Christopher Miller. Middle Stone Age Bedding Construction and Settlement Patterns at Sibudu, South Africa. Science, 2011; 334 (6061): 1388-1391 DOI: 10.1126/science.1213317

Cite This Page:

University of Tübingen. "77,000-year-old evidence for 'bedding' and use of medicinal plants uncovered at South African rock shelter." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 December 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111208151220.htm>.
University of Tübingen. (2011, December 8). 77,000-year-old evidence for 'bedding' and use of medicinal plants uncovered at South African rock shelter. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111208151220.htm
University of Tübingen. "77,000-year-old evidence for 'bedding' and use of medicinal plants uncovered at South African rock shelter." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111208151220.htm (accessed July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Did ISIS Destroy Jonah's Tomb?

Did ISIS Destroy Jonah's Tomb?

Newsy (July 25, 2014) — Unverified footage posted to YouTube purportedly shows ISIS militants destroying a shrine widely believed to be the tomb of the prophet Jonah. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Richard III's Car Park Burial Site Opens to Public

Richard III's Car Park Burial Site Opens to Public

AFP (July 25, 2014) — Visitors will be able to look down from a glass walkway on the grave of King Richard III when a new centre opens in the English cathedral city of Leicester, where the infamous hunchback was found under a car park in 2012. Duration: 00:35 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites

Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites

AP (July 25, 2014) — Emory University's Center for Digital Scholarship has launched a self-guided mobile tour app to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's Battle of Atlanta. (July 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

Newsy (July 24, 2014) — A new study claims a set of prehistoric T-Rex footprints supports the theory that the giant predators hunted in packs instead of alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Earliest Known Bug-Repellant Plant Bedding Found at South African Rock Shelter

Dec. 12, 2011 — Rare finds such as early ornaments, cave drawings and Middle Stone Age engravings are the subjects of a good deal of anthropological study and they provide clues. But in a new study, an international ... read more
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins