European researchers have unearthed evidence indicating that humans constructed wooden structures and established a settled way of life in Africa approximately 500,000 years ago.
An international research team, which included Professor Larry Barum from the University of Liverpool in the U.K., released its research findings in the international academic journal 'Nature' on the 20th (local time). The researchers remarked, "The structure found at Calambo Falls in Zambia, Africa, could potentially be the earliest example of wood usage."
In 2019, researchers initially came across log sticks that they believe were used by ancient humans. These logs exhibited grooves, and various other wooden fragments were found scattered in the vicinity. Through the application of a newly developed luminescence dating technique, the researchers confirmed that these wooden remains date back approximately 476,000 years, pre-dating the emergence of modern humans. They surmise that the humans of that era likely felled trees using stone axes and subsequently fashioned them to interlock. Professor Barum suggested that these wooden structures may have served various purposes, potentially providing shelter to keep people's feet, food, and firewood dry. He also noted that if more wooden artifacts, like stones or bones, were discovered at the site, the term "timber age" could aptly describe this period in human history.
Organic materials like wood typically undergo decomposition over thousands of years. However, the wooden structure found by the researchers managed to retain its original state even after hundreds of thousands of years due to its submersion in waterlogged sediment. The presence of sand and soil effectively blocked access to oxygen and the microorganisms responsible for wood decay.
As reported by the New York Times, the previous record for the oldest use of wood in structural construction was a 9,000-year-old wooden board found in a lake in England. The New York Times highlighted, "This discovery represents a significant advancement in the history of human structural woodworking technology."