Archaeologists have discovered the oldest wooden structure in the world

Professor Larry Barham (pictured, right) reveals the wooden riverside structure with a soft spray. Credit: Professor Geoff Dowler, Aberystwyth University

Research by the University of Liverpool and Aberystwyth University has revealed that humans were building wooden structures 476,000 years ago at Kalambo Falls, Zambia. The discovery, dated using advanced techniques, highlights early man’s ability to settle and challenges previous notions about Stone Age lifestyles.

Half a million years ago, earlier than previously thought, humans were building structures made of wood, according to new research by a team from the University of Liverpool and Aberystwyth University.

Research published in the magazine nature, Reports of the excavation of well-preserved wood at the archaeological site of Kalambo Falls, Zambia, dating back at least 476,000 years and predating the development of our era. Classify, Homo sapiens.

Wooden structure detection team

The excavation team reveals the wooden structure. Credit: Professor Larry Parham, University of Liverpool

Expert analysis of stone tool cut marks on wood shows that these early humans shaped and joined two large pieces of wood to create a structure, perhaps the foundation of a platform or part of a dwelling.

This is the oldest evidence anywhere in the world of deliberate manufacturing of tree trunks to fit together. Until now, evidence of human use of wood has been limited to using it to make fires and carve sticks and spears.

A wedge-shaped piece of wood

A wedge-shaped piece of wood. Credit: Professor Larry Parham, University of Liverpool

Conservation at Kalambo Falls

Wood is rarely found at such ancient sites because it usually rots and disappears, but at Kalambo Falls, permanently high water levels have preserved the wood.

This discovery challenges the prevailing view that Stone Age humans were nomadic. At Kalambo Falls, these people not only had a constant source of water, but the surrounding forest provided them with enough food to enable them to settle and erect structures.

Uncover the wooden structure

The excavation team reveals the wooden structure. Credit: Professor Larry Parham, University of Liverpool

Professor Larry Parham, from the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool, who is leading the Deep Roots of Humanity research project, said:

“This discovery changed the way I thought about our early ancestors. Forget the ‘Stone Age’ label, and look at what these people were doing: they were making something new and great out of wood. They were using their intelligence, imagination and skill to create something they had never seen before, something that did not exist.” before.

“They transformed their surroundings to make life easier, if only by creating a platform to sit on by the river to do daily chores. These people were more like us than we thought.”

Wooden structure from the Stone Age

The wooden structure, showing where Stone Age humans cut into the wood. Credit: Professor Larry Parham, University of Liverpool

History of discoveries

Specialist dating of the finds was carried out by experts at Aberystwyth University.

They used new fluorescence dating techniques, which reveal the last time minerals in the sand surrounding finds were exposed to sunlight, to determine their age.

Professor Geoff Dowler from Aberystwyth University said:

“In this great age, dating discoveries is extremely difficult and we have used luminescence dating to do it. These new dating methods have far-reaching implications – allowing us to date much further back in time, and piece together sites that give us a glimpse into human evolution. The site at Kalambo Falls was excavated in the 1960s when similar pieces of wood were found, but they were unable to date them, so the true importance of the site was not yet clear.

Kalambo Falls, Zambia

Kalambo Falls, Zambia where the wood was found. Credit, Professor Geoff Dowler, Aberystwyth University

Archaeological importance of Kalambo Falls

The Kalambo Falls site is located on the Kalambo River above a 235 m (772 ft) high waterfall on Zambia’s border with Tanzania’s Rukwa District on the edge of Lake Tanganyika. The area is on a “tentative” list by UNESCO to become a World Heritage Site due to its archaeological importance.

Professor Doler added:

“Our research proves that this site is much older than previously thought, and therefore its archaeological importance is now even greater. This adds further weight to the argument that it should be a UN World Heritage Site.”

This research forms part of the pioneering Deep Roots of Humanity project, an investigation into how human technology evolved in the Stone Age. The project is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and involves teams from the National Heritage Conservation Commission of Zambia, the Livingstone Museum, the Motu-Motu Museum and the National Museum in Lusaka.

Professor Barham added:

“Kalambu Falls is an exceptional site and one of Zambia’s major heritage assets. The Deep Roots team looks forward to more exciting discoveries emerging from its submerged sands.”

Reference: “Evidence for early structural use of wood at least 476,000 years ago” by L. Barham, GAT Duller, I. Candy, C. Scott, CR Cartwright, JR Peterson, C. Kabukcu, MS Chapot, F. Melia, V. Rots, N. George, N. Taipale, P. Gethin and P. Nkombwe, 20 September 2023, nature.
doi: 10.1038/s41586-023-06557-9

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