The 500,000-year-old wooden structure that changes what we knew about our ancestors

Image source, Jeff Doler

  • author, Victoria Gill
  • Role, Science correspondent, BBC News

The discovery of pieces of ancient wood on the banks of a river in Zambia has changed archaeologists’ understanding of early human life.

Researchers have found evidence that wood was used to build structures 500,000 years ago.

The discovery was published in the journal nature, This indicates that people in the Stone Age were building places for shelter.

“This discovery changes what we thought about our Neanderthal ancestors,” says Professor Larry Parham.

Barham, a scientist at the University of Liverpool in England, is leading the research project.The deep roots of humanity“It was his team that excavated and analyzed the wood.

Image source, Jeff Doler


Professor Larry Barham discovers the wooden structure located on the slopes of the river.

This discovery could change the current idea that ancient humans lived a simple nomadic life.

“They made something out of wood, new and big,” Professor Barham said.

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

Researchers also discovered ancient wooden tools, including digging sticks. But the most interesting thing is the two pieces of wood that were found, carved and arranged at right angles.

“One on top of the other, and both pieces have engravings in them,” said Geoff Dowler, an archaeologist and professor at Aberystwyth University.

“You can clearly see that the cracks that were carved with stone tools cause the tree trunks to buckle and become a structural object.”

Making fire

Image source, Larry Barham

Further analysis confirmed that the wooden pieces were approximately 476,000 years old.

Team member Pieris Nkombwe, from the Livingstone Museum in Zambia, said: “I was surprised to learn that carpentry is a deep-rooted tradition.“.

“I thought we discovered something unusual.”

Until now, what was known about the use of wood by early humans was related to fire, and the making of tools such as digging sticks and spears.

Find dates with scintillation

Image source, Michael Bayless


Scientists have created models to show how records are used

One of the oldest wooden finds ever unearthed was a 400,000-year-old spear at Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, England, in 1911.

Unless the wood is preserved under very specific conditions, it will simply rot.

But on the slopes of the river, above Kalambo Falls, located on the border between Zambia and Tanzania, The wood has been waterlogged and practically pickled for thousands of years.

The team measured the age of the layers of earth in which he was buried, using a method that uses scintillation.

Professor Dowler explained that rock grains absorb natural radioactivity from the environment over time, essentially charging themselves like small batteries.

This radioactivity can be released and measured when the grains are heated and the light they emit is analysed.

The size of the two trunks, the smaller of which is one and a half meters long, indicates this Whoever brought them together was building something substantial.

The team says that since it is unlikely to be a cabin or permanent residence, it could be part of a platform or den.

“It was probably some kind of structure sitting next to the river and catching fish,” Professor Dowler said.

“But it’s hard to know what kind of structure it was when it was standing.”

It is also unclear what species of ancient man or humans built it.

No fossils have been found at the site yet.

The wood is much older than the fossils of the first Neanderthals, or Homo sapiens, which are about 315,000 years old.

Imitation with wood

Image source, Larry Barham


Ancient wood has been preserved in river sediments.

“It could have been Homo sapiens“But we haven’t discovered fossils from that era yet,” Doler said.

“But it could be a completely different kind –Homo erectus or Homo naledi– There were different types of people in that region of South Africa.

Wooden antiques They were transported to the UK to be preserved in water tanks that simulate the floods that have kept them intact for the past half a million years.. But they will soon return to Zambia to be unveiled.

“With this discovery, we hope to enrich our collection and use it to provide more information about wood carving in Zambia,” said Nkombwe, from the Livingstone Museum in Zambia.

He added that work on the Kalambo Falls site will continue. “It has the potential to deepen our knowledge of ancient sculpting techniques, craftsmanship, and human interactions with the environment.”“.

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Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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