Groucho Marx once joked, “Anything that can’t be done in bed isn’t worth doing at all.” You might think he was referring to sleeping and sex. But humans, at one time or another, have done just about everything in bed.
And yet, despite the fact that we spend one-third of our lives in bed, they’re more of an afterthought. I certainly didn’t think much about beds until I found myself talking about their history with the executives of a mattress company. These humble artifacts, I learned, had a big story to tell—one that’s 77,000 years old. That’s when, according to archaeologist Lynn Wadley, our early African ancestors started to sleep in hollows dug out of cave floors—the first beds. They wrapped themselves in insect-repelling grasses to avoid bed bugs as persistent as those of today’s seedy motels.
Much about our beds has remained unchanged for centuries. But one aspect of the bed has undergone a dramatic shift. Today, we usually sleep in bedrooms with the door shut firmly behind us. They’re the ultimate realm of privacy. No one else is allowed in them, aside from a spouse or lover. But as I show in my forthcoming book, What We Did in Bed, it wasn’t always this way.
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