Liverpool archaeologists discover the world’s oldest wooden structure

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The fascinating discovery challenges what we know about the ‘Stone Age’.

A team of researchers from the University of Liverpool and Aberystwyth University have made a fascinating discovery, which sheds new light on what we know as the ‘Stone Age’.

The new research published in the journal Nature, suggests that half a million years ago, earlier than was previously thought possible, humans were building structures made of wood. Well-preserved wood was found at an archaeological site in Kalambo Falls, Zambia, dating back at least 476,000 years and predating the evolution of our own species.

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The specialist dating of the finds was undertaken by experts at Aberystwyth University, who used new luminescence dating techniques, which reveal the last time minerals in the sand surrounding the finds were exposed to sunlight, to determine their age.

The University of Liverpool’s expert researchers analysed stone tool cut-marks on the large piece of wood which showed that early humans shaped and joined two large logs to make a structure, probably the foundation of a platform or part of a dwelling.

This is the earliest evidence from anywhere in the world of the deliberate crafting of logs to fit together. Until now, evidence for the human use of wood was limited to its use for making fire, digging sticks and spears, with wood rarely found in ancient sites due to rotting.

The University of Liverpool’s expert researchers analysed stone tool cut-marks on the large piece of wood which showed that early humans shaped and joined two large logs to make a structure, probably the foundation of a platform or part of a dwelling.The University of Liverpool’s expert researchers analysed stone tool cut-marks on the large piece of wood which showed that early humans shaped and joined two large logs to make a structure, probably the foundation of a platform or part of a dwelling.
The University of Liverpool’s expert researchers analysed stone tool cut-marks on the large piece of wood which showed that early humans shaped and joined two large logs to make a structure, probably the foundation of a platform or part of a dwelling. | Uni of Liverpool

What the research means

The exciting discovery challenges the view that Stone Age humans did not have permanent habitats, as at Kalambo Falls, humans not only had a perennial source of water, but the forest around them provided enough food to enable them to settle and make structures.

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Professor Larry Barham, from the University of Liverpool’s Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology said: “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. 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.”

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