Who and when invented the first bed: the story that changed the way we sleep

Yulia PoteriankoLife
The history of the bed goes back thousands of years

In today's world, choosing a bed is not just a matter of comfort but an entire health industry. We are looking for the perfect proportions, materials, height, quality mattress, and linens that would allow us to get a good night's sleep and wake up without back or headaches. However, people have not always treated beds this way. This piece of furniture has gone through thousands of years to become what it is today.

Archaeologists have found some of the oldest beds in houses on the coast of the Scottish Orkney Islands. According to the BBC, the mounds near the village of Skara Brae turned out to be large houses, which are about four and a half thousand years old. They all consist of one large room with a hearth in the middle, and each house has two beds. However, when did people start sleeping this way?

The beds in the abandoned village look like stone slabs. Their high headboards and raised sides indicate their purpose. They are quite similar to modern beds.

How long have beds been around?

Brian M. Fagan, an anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and archaeologist Nadia Durrani have devoted their book to the history of this piece of furniture. Their work is called What We Did in Bed: A Horizontal History. In it, they argue that people began to sleep on a special elevation hundreds of thousands of years ago.

At first, before the advent of crafts, it was just a pile of leaves. But, having learned to use tools and build quite complex structures, people began to assemble various frames of furniture for sleeping. Scientists believe that this happened about 5,000 years ago, and that the production of beds began in several different parts of the world.

In addition to the findings in Scotland, researchers discovered something similar in ritual burial tunnels in Malta. There they found a clay statuette. It depicts a woman sleeping on a simple podium, lying on her side with her hand under her head.

The authors of the book assume that the first beds had a sacred meaning and were associated with the afterlife. The nature of sleep, by the way, has not yet been explained by science. Since then, the bed has been changing under the influence of the evolution of cultural and religious beliefs.

Ancient Egypt

Archaeologist Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in 1922, found as many as six beds in it. The burial bed was decorated with an image of the cow goddess Mehet-Weret, and the tomb also had a luxurious bed made of wood covered with gilding and a camping folding cot, a technology unprecedented at the time. The priceless wood from which this furniture was made was complemented by a wicker base made of ropes. The cushion was replaced by a hard headrest.

This design was typical for hot climates. The headrest helped to improve air circulation during sleep. It also helped to keep intricate hairstyles, such as curls or braids, which were worn in Ancient Egypt, intact.

Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, the design of the bed, like many other nuances, was determined by the status of the person. Slaves slept on wicker mats or animal skins, or even on the bare ground.

In 2021, archaeologists unearthed a bedroom almost two millennia old in the villa of Civita Giuliana, a suburb of Pompeii. There were three beds made of wooden posts tied with a thin rope, similar to a net. They had no mattresses, but they did have blankets.

In general, rich Romans used to do a variety of things in bed and had different pieces of furniture for this purpose. Some for studying, some for sleeping, some for resting and eating, and so on. They also had their own beds for burial. They looked like a metal platform with a thin mattress.

Early modern Europe

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, beds of various designs could be found in Europe, from the simplest beds to luxurious wooden structures with a canopy. At that time, mattresses were made of durable fabric and stuffed with various fillers, from straw to feathers. Of course, they provided a completely different level of comfort during sleep. Leaf or straw mattresses rustled and pricked the body during sleep, while feathers or down were warm and comfortable. However, only wealthy people could afford them.

The problem with all such mattresses was parasites. Although they were ventilated quite thoroughly, bedbugs and lice still multiplied massively inside. Since people at that time slept in the same bed as whole families, everyone was infected with parasites. This is how whole epidemics arose.

Victorian England

During the reign of Queen Victoria (nineteenth century), English society reached a peak of inequality. Although industrialization attracted people to the cities, it also created the problem of homelessness. The response to this in London was the creation of various kinds of shelters. For a small fee, you could spend the night in a wooden box that resembled a coffin, or sitting on a bench, leaning on a long rope. Several people slept this way at the same time, and in the morning, the owner would cut the rope and wake them all up.

The first mattress and modern beds

The Canadian inventor James Marshall revolutionized beds. In 1899, he patented the first spring mattress. It kept its shape well and was comfortable. This design became very popular. However, it had a disadvantage: the springs failed over time.

Since then, many types of beds and mattresses have been invented, includin water, latex, foam, and heated, with various versions of folding and pull-out beds, and so on. The search for the most comfortable design for a bed continues to this day.

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