This is why early men in South Africa used ashes to make their beds 227,000 years ago

Stephen Nartey October 31, 2022
Excavation in Border Cave/Photo credit: University of the Witwatersrand

It may sound odd, but, early men relied on ashes from camphor wood to drive away mosquitoes and other insects at night. Describe it as innovative and you would not be far from right because they did not only use fire to drive away predators but to protect themselves from illness.  

The most intriguing drive to enhance the comfort of early men in the Border Cave of South Africa was the use of grasses and ashes to make their beds. Researchers said analysis of the beds found in the rock shelters of the early men near the Lebombo Mountains were 227,000 years, as reported by Nerdist. The inhabitants of the hilly region lived there between 227,000 years ago and 1,000 years ago.

In anticipation of the dangers as well as their sense of offering effective protection during the night, the early man placed grasses and ashes which formed the base of their beds at the back of the cave and far from their entrance. This approach was to act as a windbreak not to scuttle the beds and enable them enough space to light fire to protect themselves from wild beasts.

Professor of Archaeology at the University of Witwatersrand of South Africa, Lyn Wadley, who published the findings in the Science, said the research team had a sense the early men had a strong desire for an organized life with regard to rest and work. Wadley was convinced the way and manner the beddings were organized showed that the early man exercised a high level of hygiene.

She said what she found surprising is the creativity and deep thought that went into the art of using grasses and ashes as a bed. The beds which are 100,000 years old and above were in vogue when early men started experimenting with what could make their lives easier and more comfortable.

Professor Wadley said the assumptions her research team came up with to explain the bed scenario was that the early men sought to take advantage of the availability of grasses and ashes in their immediate environment. She said they made use of the ashes because of the added advantage they brought them in driving away insects that often disturbed their sleep.

She explained that they used more grasses in making the bed probably 12 inches thick and laid it on soft, clean ashes collected from wood camphor. Professor Wadley added that the comfort they derived from the bed could be likened to a campsite bed.

The surroundings of the border cave, according to the researchers, gave a sense of how they organized their life. She said though these early men were considered unintelligent, their findings suggest people who were conscious of living in a clean environment. The fireplaces were situated close to their beds sending the signal of the warmth they sought to enable them to sleep as well.

Professor Wadley said the use of the ashes to drive away insects also gave insight into the knowledge early men had about their health and keeping to the dictates of personal hygiene to safeguard their welfare.

They also did this by taking advantage of the end product of the firewood they burnt to protect them while sleeping and to derive the ashes after they are exhausted.

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