Half-million-year-old structure discovered in Zambia
These are the remains of a simple Stone Age structure that may be the oldest evidence of early human wooden structures.
It is nearly half a million years old and
provides a rare picture of how ancient human relatives worked with wood and
changed their environment, the authors wrote in a study published in the
In general, wood rots quickly when exposed to
the elements, leaving us little evidence of how our ancient relatives used the
material, but those materials were submerged in the river, which helped
preserve them. So when his team
discovered the trees in 2019, they could still see signs that early humans had
worked on them — carving notches into the upper wood, tapering ends and leaving
tool marks on the surface.
can see the individual cut marks very clearly. It's extraordinary. Everything
just looks so fresh that you think 'it can't be that old'." And when
Geoff's dates, 477,000 (years old), came out, I thought, wow, that's absolutely
incredible. We were lucky," says Larry Barham, professor of African archaeology at the University of Liverpool and one of the authors of the report.
And the key to this discovery was determining
the age presented its own challenge, as traditional dating techniques did not
go deep enough into the past.
study, the researchers used a new method called luminescence dating, which uses
tiny minerals in the sand to estimate how long the materials have been buried.
his team excavated a log structure along with a handful of wooden tools from a
riverbed above a waterfall in Zambia.
that the crossed logs may have been the foundation of a larger structure, such
as a passageway or platform.
innovation had never been discovered so early. "They lock something in. So
it restricts movement, and it's intentional. And now you don't see anything
like that in the archaeological record, and actually you don't see them again
until maybe 9,000 years later, so there's a huge time gap between what these
humans were able to do 477,000 years ago, and then when we see it again in the
archaeological record, in this case the European record," says Barham.
understand that, so it's a framework that you can add things to, like a platform."
structure was made at least 476,000 years ago, placing the materials before the
evolution of our species, Homo sapiens.
said they would have been made by a different early human cousin - possibly
Homo heidelbergensis - living in Africa at the time. This suggests that these
Stone Age people may have been more advanced than previously thought.
In the past,
these people were thought to be hunter-gatherers who moved from place to place and
never stayed in one place for long.
simple structure shows that they take root.
Just a few
pieces of wood can change the way we see our ancient cousins.