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Oldest Wooden Structure Half a Million Years Old Discovered in Africa

Archaeologists excavate a half a million years old wooden structure in Zambia.
Archaeologists excavate the oldest wooden structure, which is quite well-preserved, in Zambia. Credit: Professor Geoff Duller / Aberystwyth University

Archaeologists have made a fascinating discovery of the oldest wooden structure that sheds new light on our history. They’ve found evidence that humans were using wood to build things much earlier than we originally believed and as early as almost half a million years ago.

A team of researchers from the University of Liverpool and Aberystwyth University made this discovery, and they’ve shared their findings in the journal Nature.

They went to a place called Kalambo Falls in Zambia and dug up quite well-preserved pieces of wood. These wooden bits are relatively old and were made around 476,000 years ago. This is way before us Homo sapiens even came into existence.

Inferences from the discovery of oldest wooden structure

Experts have revealed an exciting detail about the ancient wooden pieces and oldest wooden structure found. They noticed that there were marks on the wood that looked like they were made by tools, possibly stones.

This suggests that early humans used these tools to shape and connect two big logs. It is as if they were intentionally constructing something. This was perhaps the base of a raised platform or part of a house.

What makes this discovery even more special is that it is the earliest proof anywhere on Earth that humans intentionally worked on logs to make them fit together.

Before this find, people thought that Stone Age humans were consistently on the move, but this discovery challenges that idea. This shows that they may have actually settled in one place and built things.

Discoveries on early human ancestors

Professor Larry Barham, who works at the University of Liverpool in the Department of Archaeology, Classics, and Egyptology, has some interesting thoughts on this discovery.

He says that finding these ancient wooden structures has made him rethink what our early ancestors were like. “Forget the label ‘Stone Age’—look at what these people were doing: they made something new, and large, from wood.

“They used their intelligence, imagination, and skills to create something they’d never seen before, something that had never previously existed.

“They transformed their surroundings to make life easier, even if it was only by making a platform to sit on by the river to do their daily chores.

“These folks were more like us than we thought.”

Oldest wooden structure suggestive of deep roots of humanity

The experts at Aberystwyth University used a special dating technique called “luminescence dating” to figure out how old these discoveries were. This method helps determine when the tiny minerals in the sand around the oldest wooden structure were last exposed to sunlight.

Professor Geoff Duller, one of the experts, explained that dating something this ancient can be really tough. But thanks to luminescence dating, they were able to achieve this. The particular dating method is a game-changer because it allows us to go back much further in time.

It helps us connect the dots between different sites, such as the one where the wooden structure was located, and learn more about how humans evolved. Interestingly, people had excavated the Kalambo Falls site back in the 1960s and found similar pieces of wood.

However, they couldn’t figure out how old they were, so they didn’t fully understand how important the site was until very recently. This study is part of a bigger project called the “Deep Roots Of Humanity.” It’s all about exploring how early humans developed their technology during the Stone Age.

Funded and supported by joint efforts

This project is supported by funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council. It brought together teams from Zambia’s National Heritage Conservation Commission, Livingstone Museum, Moto Moto Museum, and the National Museum in Lusaka.

Professor Barham mentioned, “Kalambo Falls is an extraordinary site and a major heritage asset for Zambia. The Deep Roots team is looking forward to more exciting discoveries emerging from its waterlogged sands.”

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