World’s oldest wood structure discovered - expert comment
21 September 2023
The discovery of the world’s oldest wooden structure shows ‘when people started to alter the planet for their own benefit’, according to a University of Reading archaeology expert.
Found by researchers from the Universities of Liverpool and Aberystwyth near Kalambo Falls, Zambia, the structure is believed to date back 476,000 years and predates the evolution of homo sapiens. The discovery is outlined in a new study published in Nature.
Expert analysis of stone tool cut marks on the wood shows that these early humans shaped and joined two large logs to make a structure, probably the foundation of a platform or part of a dwelling.
Dr Annemieke Milks, of the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology, has analysed the ‘remarkable’ find in Nature’s news and views,
Dr Milks said: “Kalambo Falls, a Middle Pleistocene site, was first excavated during the 1950s and 1960s.
“When did our human relatives begin crafting structures as a means of adapting to their environments? Examples of hominin-made structures from the Pleistocene are rare, and evidence of the modification of structural elements is rarer still.
“The individuals at Kalambo Falls did not just drag two unmodified logs into the same place, such as might be done to build a nest. Rather, the modifications and visible tool marks suggest that the individuals shaped the top log to fit together with the bottom one, creating a single interlocking structure.
“Although [the study’s authors] are rightly cautious about the function of the interconnected logs, they propose a few possibilities to consider, including a walkway, a raised platform or a habitation structure.
“Studies such as this one highlight the role of this most humble of materials in the human story, and simultaneously reveal when people started to structurally alter the planet for their own benefit.”