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7 May 2004
Oldest Evidence of Bedding Found

An Upper Paleolithic camp, once submerged by the waters of the Sea of Galilee, has yielded the world's oldest evidence of bedding, according to Israeli archaeologists. Known as Ohalo II, the site was abandoned by Stone Age fishermen and hunters nearly 23,000 years ago, following a flood.
     "Calm, relatively deep, water covered the site, and the immediate deposition of fine clay and silt layers began. Together, the water and sediments sealed the site and protected the remains for millennia," archaeologist Dani Nadel and colleagues wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Ohalo II had been submerged beneath two to three meters (six to nine feet) of water since 1989, when a dry period in the Jordan Valley caused the water level to drop significantly, uncovering the exceptionally well-preserved paleolithic dwelling site.
     Archaeologists have so far excavated one fourth of the camp, bringing to light six oval-shaped huts and open air hearths, a grave of an adult male, and fragments of hundreds of species of mammals, birds, fruits, and vegetables. In one of the huts, the researchers found a bedding made of grass and covered by a thin, compact layer of clay. The grass turned out to be Pulcinellia convoluta, a species characterized by dense bunches of soft delicate stems. No roots were found on any of the grasses, indicating that the Ohalo II people used sharp flint tools to cut the grasses just above the root level. The researchers do not think that the grasses, arranged in a tile-like manner, on the floor and around a central hearth, could be a collapsed roof instead. "This is supported by the lack of grass remains above the central hearth. Had the grasses been a part of the roof, they should have covered the ashes of the hearth too," Nadel said.
     Intriguingly, the inhabitants could have used an unknown material that included a sticky, compact, clay-like substance to protect and keep together the tightly arranged grasses, basically creating a simple, thin, two-layer bed, said the researchers. "We believe that only a protective layer would explain why the delicate grass material is preserved almost in its entirety in an undisturbed arrangement," Nadel said. Floor coverings or bedding have been extremely difficult to identify, since they were made of perishables. "It is possible that the Ohalo II grass floor coverings represent the first stage of bedding, whereas fully woven mats evolved only millennia later," Nadel said.
     According to Olga Soffer, professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, this is not the first claim for the oldest bedding. Soffer said that in 1969, Henry de Lumley claimed to have found bedding dating from 130,000 years ago made of seaweed. It was covered with animal hides at the caves of Le Lazaret, in France. Other claims have been made at the French site at Abri Pataud, with its placement of hearts near the back wall of a cave in configuration, suggesting sleeping places.

Source: Discovery News (5 May 2004)

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