Archaeologists in Zambia Discover the World’s Oldest Wooden Structure, Dating Back 476,000 Years Ago
A new discovery in Zambia reveals the oldest known wooden construction created by the hands of human ancestors and demonstrates the ingenuity and engineering prowess of our ancient relatives.
Archaeologists have discovered the oldest evidence of a wooden structure created by the hands of human ancestors. Two notched tree trunks resembling Lincoln logs are preserved at the bottom of the Kalambo River in Zambia. If the estimated age of the logs, estimated at 476,000 years, is correct, it would mean that woodworking may have predated the emergence of our species, Homo sapiens, and highlighted the intelligence of our human ancestors.
Archaeologists discovered the logs at Kalambo Falls on Lake Tanganyika in northern Zambia, a site studied by scientists since the 1950s. Previous excavations around a small lake just upstream of the falls have revealed stone tools, preserved pollen and wooden artifacts that have helped researchers better understand the evolutionary process and human culture over hundreds of thousands of years.
But a new analysis of five pieces of transformed wood from Kalambo pushes back the earliest occupation of the site and gives researchers new insight into the minds of our ancestors from the Middle Pleistocene (781,000 to 126,000 years ago).
In a new study published Wednesday, September 20 in the journal Nature, researchers led by Larry Barham, professor in the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, in the lead, gave a detailed presentation of the wooden objects they dug up. These include two found with stone tools in the river and three covered by layers of clay above river level. These wooden objects have survived for hundreds of thousands of years thanks to consistently high water tables.
Using luminescence dating of sand samples from the site, which involves measuring the time sand grains, are exposed to light, Barham and colleagues discovered three groups:
a cut log and a tapered piece of wood dated to 324,000 years ago; a digging stick from 390,000 years ago; and a wooden block and two stacked logs dating from 476,000 years ago.
While the small, modified hunks of wood from Kalambo are pretty similar to 400,000-year-old foraging and hunting tools found in Europe and China, the interlocking logs have “no known parallels in the African or Eurasian Palaeolithic,” the researchers wrote in the study.
The upper log, recovered from a layer that also had stone tools, measured 55.6 inches (141.3 centimeters) long and was found lying on a large tree trunk at a 75-degree angle.
Both the bottom of the top log and the top of the bottom trunk had evidence of chopping and scraping to make a notch — enabling them to snugly fit together.
“Wood from tree trunks enabled humans to construct large objects,” Barham and colleagues wrote in their study, suggesting that their “life in a periodically wet floodplain would be enhanced by constructing a raised platform, walkway or foundation for dwellings.”
The newfound objects could push back the dates of the earliest examples of woodworking and help scientists to better understand the technology our hominin ancestors had.
Archaeological evidence of hominin behavior usually comes from artifacts that are nearly indestructible, like stone tools, so the discovery of well-preserved perishable wooden items at Kalambo Falls is important. “It is inconceivable that hominins would not have used wood because of its universal properties,” Shadreck Chirikure, a professor of archaeological sciences at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the study, told Live Science via email. Its variables”. The new study shows that “humans and hominids used the resources available to them,” Chirikure added. Chirikure said the very early date of the notched logs “requires a rethink” of how human cultural and biological evolution is understood.
Scientists previously thought the hominids that lived at Kalambo during the Middle Pleistocene were nomadic foragers with few technological skills, but new findings suggest they were much more intelligent than thought initially, the researchers suggested. “This evidence allows us to examine the different materials used by hominids, including those that leave marks and those that are perishable,” Chirikure said.