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David Perry

World's oldest mattress offers lessons on trends that endure

March 27, 2012

This week we consider something old: The world's oldest known mattress.

National Geographic recently shared the fascinating details, reporting that a mattress consisting of layers of reeds and rushes was discovered at the bottom of a pile of bedding made from compacted grasses and leafy plants. The oldest mats dated to 77,000 years ago.
And here's the amazing thing: The bed, a PlantaPedic Plush, had an 80,000-year warranty that was still in effect!

OK, I made that last part up, but if various producers continue to offer longer and longer warranties, we will see an 80,000-year warranty sometime in the next 80,000 years or so. But I digress.

The tales told by that old mattress, as revealed by archaeologists, show that some of today's bedding trends have been around for a very long time. That original mattress was full of natural materials, had a special top layer, was long on comfort, and was about 12 inches high - all characteristics that can be found in today's mattresses.

And those early bed makers even had a novel way to keep their beds clean: They burned them every so often, "possibly to limit pests and garbage," National Geographic reported.

It offered these insights on that old mattress in its report:
The mattress was found at the bottom of a pile of bedding (sounds like an ancient landfill to us) in the Sibudu Cave site in South Africa. It is evidence of plant bedding that is 50,000 years older than found at any other site in the world, the study leader said.
Researchers believe that a "top sheet" of insect-repelling greenery was added to the mattress, likely to counteract body lice. (Today we have beds that feature top layers designed to kill bacteria, bed bugs and other nasty pests.)

Those ancient mattresses were big, measuring up to 22 square feet. That was big enough for the whole family. And at 12 inches in height, they were a "very comfortable" and "quite long-lasting form of bedding," said study leader Lyn Wadley of the University of Witwatersrand (I am not making this up) in Johannesburg.

So as bedding producers prepare their new models for the upcoming High Point Market, perhaps they should take inspiration from the world's oldest bedding makers. Natural bedding materials are good. Comfort is critical. Bugs, bacteria and other bad things like that are not welcome in our mattresses.

And we should note, too, that the survival of a 77,000-year-old mattress is powerful evidence that we need recycling programs to get our old beds out of the system. We don't want someone to find one of today's beds 77,000 years from now, do we?