A 77,000-year-old mattress was discovered in the Sibudu rock shelter in South Africa, a few miles from the Indian Ocean. The three-foot-by-six-foot mattress, what they call bedding, consisted of compacted layers, less than an inch thick, and was probably used as both a sleeping and a work surface.
The mattress also came with built-in pest controls: In addition to grasses and sedges, it was made from the stems and leaves of a type of laurel tree known as Cryptocarya woodii, whose aromatic leaves contain insecticides that kill mosquitoes. Pretty neat!
According to a BBC News report, an international team of researchers has found evidence of human activity on the southern coast of South Africa, both before and after the cataclysmic eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Toba some 74,000 years ago. Both sites, one at a rock shelter and one in the open air on a beach, yielded shards of volcanic glass chemically fingerprinted to Mount Toba, which is located nearly 5,600 miles away.
Mount Toba’s eruption is famous in paleontology and genetic circles because it coincides with a nosedive in the Homo sapiens population. The eruption was huge – the largest in the last 2.5 million years – and caused ecological devastation across the planet. Plants died from the ash and lack of sunlight, and animals died for lack of plants to eat. Genetic evidence suggests the Homo sapiens population may have dipped as low as 500 breeding pairs. We almost went extinct. But the new evidence from South Africa shows the eruption could have been less catastrophic for some well-placed pockets of Homo sapiens.
The scientists found deposits of seashells from food preparation and stone flakes from toolmaking at the two sites. Based on an increase in the number of shells and stone flakes after the eruption, scientists say the population of the groups that used these sites may have actually increased after the volcanic event: the sites became home to larger groups, who stayed at the sites for longer. It has been suggested that the eruption would have wiped out much of the global human population, but these coastal populations may have thrived, since they relied upon the sea for food. Marine life was less affected by the Mount Toba eruption, so Homo sapiens that lived by the sea may have weathered the ecological disaster better.
After 20 years of painstaking excavation, cleaning, and reassembling, the virtually intact skeleton of the Australopithecus hominid known as Little Foot has been revealed to the world.
Bones from the 3.67-million-year-old human ancestor were first identified in the 1990s within the Sterkfontein caves northwest of Johannesburg, in South Africa. Little Foot represents the most complete Australopithecus ever discovered.