World’s Oldest Known Wooden Structure Pre-dates Our Species

Credits: Larry Barham/University of Liverpool

In Zambia, researchers have revealed an ancient wooden construction from roughly 476,000 years ago, corresponding to the Pleistocene Epoch or Early Stone Age.

This find showcases the earliest documented instance of wood being used for building by early human ancestors. The findings, published on September 20 in the journal Nature, show that this construction came into existence possibly more than 120,000 years before the emergence of Homo sapiens.

Situated on the Zambia-Tanzania border, the 772-foot Kalambo Falls stands as Africa’s second tallest unbroken waterfall. In 2019, an archaeological discovery at this site revealed two meticulously joined logs with a deliberately carved notch. Evident tool markings were observed on the logs, and an assortment of wooden tools was also unearthed.

This discovery signifies the oldest recorded instance of humans intentionally modifying two logs for joining purposes. The study’s authors suggest these logs might have been components of an elevated platform, a pathway, or even a foundation for shelters built on the occasionally inundated floodplains of the region.

Historical studies had primarily indicated that wood’s usage during this period was mostly restricted to creating spears, digging tools, and facilitating fire-making. An earlier recognized wooden artifact, dating to the Middle Stone Age, was retrieved from South Africa in 1952.

The newfound evidence might also challenge the prevailing idea that humans of the Stone Age led primarily nomadic lives. The constant water source from Kalambo Falls and the surrounding forest, abundant with wood, could have facilitated the construction of enduring or semi-lasting structures.

To determine the age of the artifact, the team applied innovative luminescence dating methodologies, assessing when the sand-encased wood’s minerals last saw sunlight. This analysis approximated the wooden artifact’s age to be nearly half a million years.

Kalambo Falls’ archaeological significance was recognized during excavations in the 1950s and 1960s. However, it was only with modern dating techniques that the true historical importance of the site came into focus. Currently, there’s a proposal for this region to be acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This enlightening research originates from the “Deep Roots of Humanity” initiative, a global interdisciplinary collaboration delving into the technological advancements of Stone Age humanity.