Potentially, individuals in the Stone Age might have been constructing wooden structures as early as half a million years ago, challenging the longstanding notion that they were exclusively nomadic. This revelation stems from a recent study by researchers from the University of Liverpool and Aberystwyth University. Published in the journal Nature, the study delves into well-preserved wood discovered at the archaeological site of Kalambo Falls in Zambia, dating back to at least 476,000 years ago, well before the emergence of our species, Homo sapiens.
A detailed analysis of cut marks from stone tools on the wood suggests that these ancient humans skillfully shaped and connected two sizable logs to form a structure, likely serving as the base for a platform or a component of a dwelling. Remarkably, this marks the earliest evidence, found anywhere globally, of intentional woodworking to fit logs together.
Up until now, evidence of human interaction with wood primarily centered on its use for fire-making, digging implements, and spears. The scarcity of wood in ancient sites can be attributed to its typical decay and disappearance over time. However, at Kalambo Falls, consistently high water levels have effectively preserved the wooden artifacts. This groundbreaking discovery challenges the prevailing belief that Stone Age humans were solely nomadic. At Kalambo Falls, these humans not only had access to a perennial water source but also benefited from the surrounding forest, which provided ample food for settlement and the construction of structures. Larry Barham, leading the research project “The Deep Roots of Humanity” at the University of Liverpool’s Department of Archaeology, Classics, and Egyptology, remarked, “This discovery has altered my perspective on our earliest ancestors. Disregard the ‘Stone Age’ label; consider what these people achieved: they innovatively created something significant using wood. Their intelligence, imagination, and skills were applied to fashion something unprecedented, something that hadn’t existed before.”
“They transformed their environment to enhance their lives, even if it was as simple as constructing a platform by the river for their daily activities. These people were more akin to us than previously thought.” The specialized dating of artifacts was conducted by experts from Aberystwyth University, utilizing novel luminescence dating techniques that reveal the last time minerals in the surrounding sand were exposed to sunlight, thereby determining their age. Professor Geoff Duller of Aberystwyth University noted, “Determining the age of these artifacts posed a significant challenge, and we employed luminescence dating for this purpose. These innovative dating methods hold broad implications, allowing us to delve much further back in time and reconstruct sites that offer insights into human evolution. Although the Kalambo Falls site was excavated in the 1960s and similar wooden pieces were recovered, their dating proved elusive, obscuring the true significance of the site until now.”