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A Place to Sleep

Wealthy Arabs sometimes sleep on elaborate tent-like beds, but most people in the Mideast still slumber on simple piles of rugs.

The Japanese customarily catch their shuteye on a mat, called a tatami, spread over the floor. Many Japanese do not have a bedroom. In the morning, they roll up their tatami and their futon or quilt, and use the sleeping quarters as a dining room. 

The Chinese have a long tradition of bed slumber. Wooden beds similar to those made in ancient Egypt were in use in China as early as 2,000 years ago. Even the four-poster bed is not unknown in China. But, by western standards, old Chinese beds would not be very comfortable, with matting substituting for a mattress, and pillows made of wood or stone, carved to fit the head or neck. 

In the West, the history of the bed begins in ancient Egypt. Egyptian beds look more like couches. Egyptians made no distinction between a day bed, or couch, and a night bed; they used the same item for both lounging and sleeping. The earliest known models were made of palm sticks or palm leaf wicker, lashed together with pieces of cord or rawhide. Later, Egyptian bed-makers introduced mortise-and-tenon construction and wood bed frames veneered with ivory or ebony. In the royal household, bed made from timbers were sometimes sheathed in gold. Most mattresses were made of woven cord, interlaced like the modern chaise lounge or beach chair. 

The Egyptian bed was equipped with a foot- board, but not with a headboard. Egyptian pillows would seem appallingly uncomfortable by modern standards: most were raised headrests, curved to fit the head or neck, made of wood, ivory, or alabaster, and sometimes inlaid with ivory or colored stones. Many beds, especially those In poorer quarters, were fitted with a canopy of some kind from which mosquito netting could be hung. The Greek historian Herodotus claimed that contemporary Egyptians used the nets by day to catch fish. 

Even in wealthier households, the Egyptian bedroom was starkly furnished, with just a bed and perhaps a chair and a small table. In many houses, there was but one bedroom for the master of the house; the servants slept In the hall. The ruins of one aristocratic Egyptian home suggest that younger children sometimes slept in their parents' bedroom. 

Source: The Great Book of Astounding Facts, By Bruce D. Witherspoon (Galahad Books, New York)

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