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Ancient Timber Construction Dating Back 500,000 Years Revealed in Zambia


The unearthing of ancient wooden logs along the banks of a river in Zambia has significantly altered archaeologists' perceptions of early human existence. These findings, featured in the journal Nature, indicate that roughly 500,000 years ago, wood was employed in constructing a structure, potentially used as shelters by Stone Age individuals.

Professor Larry Barham, an archaeologist from the University of Liverpool leading the Deep Roots of Humanity research project, expressed how this discovery has fundamentally changed his perspective on our distant ancestors. It challenges the prevailing belief that ancient humans led relatively simple, nomadic lives, as they demonstrated their intelligence, creativity, and craftsmanship by fashioning something entirely new from wood – something previously unseen.

In addition to the ancient logs, researchers came across wooden tools, including digging sticks, but what truly excited them were two wooden pieces oriented at right angles, each bearing notches presumably carved with stone tools. These notches allowed the logs to be assembled into structural components.

Radiocarbon dating confirmed that these logs were approximately 476,000 years old. This remarkable preservation was attributed to the waterlogged conditions near the Kalambo Falls in Zambia, where the wood was essentially preserved for millennia. Luminescence dating, which involves measuring the radioactivity absorbed by rock grains over time, aided in determining their age.

The logs' size, with the smaller one measuring around 1.5 meters (5 feet), suggests that they were used in constructing something substantial. While it's unclear whether this was a permanent dwelling, it may have been part of a platform for a shelter or a structure near the river for activities such as fishing.

The builders of this structure remain a mystery, as no human or hominid remains have been discovered at the site. The age of the wood predates the earliest Homo sapien fossils by about 160,000 years. It could have been Homo sapiens, or perhaps a different species like Homo erectus or Homo naledi that constructed it.

These wooden artifacts have been transported to the UK for analysis and preservation but will eventually return to Zambia for display. The hope is that this discovery will enrich the collection and enhance our understanding of woodworking traditions in Zambia and shed light on ancient craftsmanship and human interaction with the environment. Research at the Kalambo Falls site continues with the potential to deepen our knowledge of ancient woodworking techniques and human-environment interactions.