Half-million-year-old structure discovered in Zambia

2023-09-23 07:51:16
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 journal Nature.

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.

"You 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 dates.

Determining the age presented its own challenge, as traditional dating techniques did not go deep enough into the past.

In this 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.

Barham and his team excavated a log structure along with a handful of wooden tools from a riverbed above a waterfall in Zambia.

They believe that the crossed logs may have been the foundation of a larger structure, such as a passageway or platform.

Such an 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.

"So I understand that, so it's a framework that you can add things to, like a platform."

The log structure was made at least 476,000 years ago, placing the materials before the evolution of our species, Homo sapiens.

The authors 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.

But the simple structure shows that they take root.

Just a few pieces of wood can change the way we see our ancient cousins.

(Source: Agencies)


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