African and British archaeologists in Zambia, Africa, have discovered the oldest known wooden structure crafted by human hands. This artifact was found at the archaeological site of Kalambo Falls, which sits on the border of Zambia and Tanzania. They examined the cut marks made by stone tools on a structure consisting of two interlocking logs, some referred to as “Lincoln Logs”, with a notch intentionally crafted into the upper piece.
The estimated age of the logs is an astonishing 476,000 years old. This discovery suggests that our human ancestors may have practiced woodworking before the emergence of our own species, Homo sapiens, and highlights their intelligence.
The Deep Roots of Humanity Project
The Deep Roots of Humanity Project investigates early technological change in south-central Africa. International and interdisciplinary researchers examined the way early humans planned and made tools.
Led by Larry Barham, a professor from the University of Liverpool in the UK, the team recently published a study in the scientific journal Nature. The team, composed of members from universities and organizations in the UK, Belgium, and Zambia, uncovered logs and a handful of wooden tools in 2019, providing a unique glimpse into how hominins (relatives of homo sapiens) worked with wood to manipulate their environment. The logs may have been utilized to construct a raised platform walkway or the foundation for dwellings, as per the study's authors.
“This find has changed how I think about our early ancestors. Forget the label ‘Stone Age’, look at what these people were doing: they made something new, and large, from wood,” study co-author Barham said in a statement. “They used their intelligence, imagination, and skills to create something they’d never seen before, something that had never previously existed.”
Luminescence Dating Techniques
The University of Liverpool received wooden pieces from Zambia via air freight to determine their age. Determining the age of the wood was challenging, but the team used a technique called luminescence dating. This method estimates the age of sediments by determining the amount of time that has passed since mineral grains were last exposed to daylight. According to the analysis, the artifact is close to half a million years old.
The researchers concluded that Stone Age people were more technologically advanced than previously believed, based on this discovery. "It's what I call a disruptive discovery. I never expected it. And it took me a while before I appreciated what we were looking at. It didn't look very nice, to be honest. But it is much more complex than I thought and it suggests to me that early humans, early hominins before us, were actually capable of doing things which we would marvel at if we were doing it ourselves,” said Barham.
A humble collection of wooden artifacts has the potential to change the course of history, shedding light on previously unknown aspects of ancient hominins.
Edited by: Anwen Venn
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