In the Kalambo River in northern Zambia, a team of archaeologists discovered something that has a direct impact on our understanding of the development of human life.
It is a simple structure made of two intertwined pieces of wood that was built during the Stone Age, making it the oldest piece of wood that has existed to date.
The object is evidence that humans predated our species were building with this material 476,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought.
The discovery was led by researchers at the University of Liverpool and their results were just published this Wednesday in the journal Nature.
According to British media The Guardian, in 2019 researchers from the University of Liverpool and other universities arrived at Kalambo Falls to resume excavations that began in 2006. The site had undergone several changes.
The group began their walk near a cliff until they reached a small beach on the Kalambo River. There they dug up the items they had collected for the study, including a wedge, a digging stick, a cut tree trunk and other tools.
The analyzes revealed that the wooden structure had several marks on the surface. These clues suggest that the trunks may have been intentionally cut and worked with the tools found.
“When I first saw it, I thought it couldn’t be real. “Wood and stone suggest a high level of ingenuity, technological skill and planning,” Larry Barham, an archaeologist at the University of Liverpool who led the study, told the aforementioned media.
According to Barham, the structure may have been a walkway or the base for a platform. Another possibility is that it was used to build a house over the water.
“A platform could be used as a place to store things, to keep firewood or food dry, or it could be used as a place to sit and do things. You could build a small shelter at the top and sleep there,” explained the archaeologist.
To determine the approximate age of the objects, taking into account the conditions in which they survived for hundreds of years, the researchers resorted to a technique called luminescence dating. This determines when the minerals were last exposed to sunlight before they were buried.
In this way, they managed to identify that the wooden structure and other objects were almost half a million years old, long before the existence of Homo Sapiens.
“These new dating methods have far-reaching implications: they allow us to date much further into the past and reconstruct locations that give us insights into human evolution,” said Geoff Duller, a professor at Aberystwyt University and one of the authors of the study.
A relevant factor is that wooden artifacts do not survive that long. In fact, very specific conditions are required to keep them in good condition and not rot, which makes finds of wooden objects less common.
In this case, it is believed that Kalambo’s water level may have contributed to the preservation of the forest.
According to Barham, the oldest known wooden structure prior to this discovery was 9,000 years old.
The importance of this study lies in the fact that it represents the earliest evidence of the use of wood in construction and that it also allows us to expand the uses attributed to this material: previously it was assumed that wood was used from early People for very specific purposes, for example making fire or hunting.
“Forget the label ‘Stone Age,’ look at what these people did: They made something new and great out of wood. “They used their intelligence, imagination and skills to create something they had never seen before, something that had never existed before,” argued the archaeologist from the University of Liverpool.
“They redesigned their surroundings to make life easier, even if it was just creating a platform where you could sit by the river and do your daily tasks. “These people were more like us than we thought,” he added.