The ancient Egyptians used pillows made from what would today be considered very unusual materials, such as wood, ivory, or even stone.
However, it is worth noting that these “pillows” were actually more like headrests and were usually placed under the head of a deceased person. Namely, the ancient Egyptians considered the head to hold the essence of life.
These pillows were intended to support the deceased’s head and thus uphold body vigor and keep the blood circulating. They were also believed to keep demons away – this is why they were usually decorated with images of gods.
Stone pillows for living people also existed and were also used for a specific reason. Namely, most people at that time slept close to the floor. Since this was long before the time of modern sanitation, there would have doubtless been many insects and vermin crawling about. In this context, one can see the benefit of using stone as a material – it cannot be infested by such creatures.
However, it is worth noting that a single pillow made from woven plant fibers encased in a wax coating. It has been dated to around 2000 BC. This suggests that at least some of the wealthier Egyptians may have slept more comfortably.
It is interesting that there was a similar tradition of using hard pillows in ancient China – soft pillows were believed to steal the energy from one’s body while they slept.