For our cave-dwelling ancestors, keeping things clean, including themselves, must have been a never-ending struggle, so they had to be quite inventive.
We can only imagine the number of animal blood stains a cavewife would have had to get out of her hubby’s animal skin ensemble.
And their children, who spent the vast majority of their time playing outside, must have been constantly filthy as well.
With pine-scented bleach tens of thousands of years from being invented, our prehistoric ancestors had to come up with other ways of cleaning themselves, their clothes and their caves.
The most obvious prehistoric cleaning product was good old H20. Cavemen were just as aware as anyone else that they needed water to live. It didn’t take them long to figure out that it also got dirt off their hands.
But what about the tough stuff? Our Paleolithic friends weren’t entirely without help when it came to getting clean. They used natural abrasives such as sand and small volcanic stones to scrub down.
Perhaps scrubbing sand on dirt doesn’t sound like the best way of getting something clean, but it does work by literally scratching dirt off surfaces. Just think of it as primitive exfoliation.
Despite having never studied chemistry, trial and error led our early ancestors to the cleaning capabilities of “alkaline ammonium carbonate,” too.
As creepy as it might sound today, the cleaning agent we call “ammonia” was first produced by allowing human or animal urine to ferment. The resultant compound could be used for washing pelts and other soiled or stained surfaces.
Our forebears also discovered that ashes left over from fires could be used effectively as cleansers. Wood ash contains potassium hydroxide which cleans and whitens teeth. Mixed with water, hardwood ash creates lye , a powerful cleaning agent that dissolves fats and oils.
Over time, we would come to associate cleanliness with the elimination of foul odors and the presence of pleasing ones. Evidence has been found that ancient natives of the Caribbean region used local herbs to clean and disinfect.
In Asia, lemons were among the earliest cleansers. And nomadic tribes of Europe's temperate regions were well aware of how pine needles made not only good bedding, but also a natural deodorizer.
Eventually, soap would be invented in Babylonia around 2800 BC—a miracle of modernity that busy cavemoms surely would have appreciated.
Alfablue, October 2012