In Zambia, they discovered the oldest wooden structure: Who built it 476,000 years ago?

Archaeologists said Wednesday they have unearthed the oldest wooden structure ever discovered, dating back nearly half a million years, suggesting our ancestors may have been more advanced than previously thought.

An exceptionally well-preserved wooden structure was discovered at Kalambo Falls in northern Zambia near the border with Tanzania.

It dates back to at least 476,000 years ago, long before the evolution of Homo sapiens, according to a study describing the discovery in the journal Nature.

The wood has cut marks showing that stone tools were used to join two large logs together to make a structure, believed to be a platform, walkway or raised dwelling to keep our relatives above the water.

A collection of wooden tools, including a wedge and digging stick, was also discovered at the site.


It is known that at that time the ancestors of people used wood, but for limited purposes, such as lighting fires or hunting.

Larry Barham, an archaeologist from Britain’s University of Liverpool and lead author of the study, told AFP that, to his knowledge, the previous record holder for the oldest wooden structure dates back to about 9,000 years ago.

Barham said the structure was an “accidental discovery” made in 2019 during excavations at a site located on the banks of the Kalambo River, above a 235-meter waterfall.

Discoveries involving such ancient wood are rare, as it tends to rot leaving little trace.

But the high water level at Kalambo Falls is believed to have preserved the structure over the centuries.

‘Imagination and skills’


Excavations at the Kalambo site in the 1950s and 1960s revealed some wood, but it could not be precisely dated.

However, this time the archaeologists used a new method called luminescence dating, which determines the age by measuring the time when the minerals were last exposed to sunlight.

This revealed that the structure is much older than they thought and dates back to at least 476,000 years ago.

The earliest evidence of Homo sapiens dates back to about 300,000 years ago.

But fossils of a human relative, Homo heidelbergensis, thought to have lived 700,000 to 200,000 years ago, have been found in the region, Barham said.

The discovery of the wooden structure “changed my opinion of these people,” Barham added.


“They transformed their environment to make life easier, even if it was just by making a platform where they can sit by the river and go about their daily business,” he said.

“They used intelligence, imagination and skill to create something they had never seen before, something that had never existed before.”

This suggests an abstract level of thinking and “probably language,” he added.

Sophie Archambault de Beaune, an archaeologist at France’s Lyon 3 University who was not involved in the study, said the structure “presupposes cognitive abilities such as planning and the ability to visualize the finished product.”

By Editor

Leave a Reply