World’s oldest wooden structure discovered in Zambia

The oldest wooden structure ever discovered was discovered by archaeologists in Paris on Wednesday, and it dates back nearly half a million years, suggesting that our ancestors may have been more advanced than previously believed.

The remarkably well-preserved wooden building was discovered at Kalambo Falls in northern Zambia, close to the Tanzanian border. According to a study published in the journal Nature, it goes back at least 476,000 years, which is a significant amount of time before the evolution of Homo sapiens.

The structure, which is thought to have been a platform, walkway, or raised dwelling to keep our ancestors above the water, is made of wood that shows cut marks from stone tools being used to join two substantial logs together.

At the location, a number of wooden tools, including a wedge and a digging stick, were also found.
According to the study, it predates the evolution of Homo sapiens by at least 476,000 years.

At this time, wood was known to have been used by human ancestors, albeit for a few specific activities like stoking fires and hunting.

According to the study’s lead author, archaeologist Larry Barham of the University of Liverpool in the UK, the oldest wooden structure previously held the record for being around 9,000 years old.

Overlooking the 770-foot waterfall, on the banks of the Kalambo River, Barham claimed that the structure was a chance discovery made in 2019.

It is uncommon to find such old wood because it rots easily and leaves few remnants of the past.

However, it is thought that the structure at Kalambo Falls has been preserved over the years due to the high water table.

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Skills and Imagination

Some wood was found during the 1950s and 1960s excavations at the Kalambo site, but it was unable to be precisely dated.

This time, however, the scientists employed a novel technique called luminescence dating, which establishes age by measuring the most recent exposure of minerals to sunlight.

This showed that the structure was at least 476,000 years older than the researchers had originally believed.

Around 300,000 years ago, the earliest Homo sapiens fossils were discovered. However, Homo heidelbergensis fossils have been discovered in the area, according to Barham, who believes that this human relative lived there between 700,000 and 200,000 years ago.

Barham continued, The discovery of the wooden structure altered my perspective on these people.

They changed their surroundings to make life simpler, he said, even if it was just by building a platform to sit on by the river and complete their daily tasks.

They created something that had never been seen before and never existed by combining their knowledge, creativity, and technical know-how.

Other wooden objects included a wedge, a log that had been sawed off at both ends and a split branch with a notch that may have been part of a trap. Barham speculated about the log’s potential use as a workspace by comparing it to a Black and Decker workbench.

Given how infrequently wood survives for extended periods, the findings, which were published in Nature, are remarkable. The material at Kalambo Falls was preserved by oxygen-starved waterlogged sediments.

Although it may not be the beginning of the built environment, Barham noted that it is the earliest instance we have of people using trees, controlling this material, and creating something without precedent or natural forms to imitate. “It really imposes a cultural imprint on the environment.
The site likely contains more prehistoric wooden artifacts, and according to Barham, the main goal is to work with the Zambian government to have Kalambo Falls recognized as a Unesco World Heritage site.

It was a ground-breaking discovery, according to Dr. Sonia Harmand, a specialist in early Stone Age archaeology at Stony Brook University in New York.

This makes it a very wanted discovery, she said, because we know so little about the use of organic materials during the early stages of our evolution. The team consists of international experts, and there is no doubt that the discovery is reliable.

Dr. Annemieke Milks, a Palaeolithic archaeologist at the University of Reading, said the interlocking, shaped logs were proof of a behavioral threshold, demonstrating that humans began modifying their living environment with large-scale materials as early as 476,000 years ago.

The shaped and interlocking logs, though quite basic in nature, show that these people organized their surroundings, she added. While many other animals exhibit these behaviors, the Kalambo Falls people did so by making use of multiple materials, at the very least stone and wood and possibly fire.

According to her, the rarity of wood preservation suggests that such behaviors were more common than what we observe in the archaeological record. Despite the fact that wood is still frequently used to make tools and structures, their research offers a unique window into the part that this affordable material played in the development of humans.