500,000-year-old pieces of wood discovered in Zambia have 'no known parallels' in the world, archeologists say

Modified wood tools from the excavation site in Zambia.
Modified wood tools from the excavation site in Zambia, used by early humans.Nature
  • The earliest signs of wooden structures were discovered by a group of archeologists in Zambia.

  • These structures are about 500,000 years old, the scientists responsible for the find said.

  • These structures change our understanding of what early humans were capable of, they wrote.

A group of scientists discovered the earliest evidence of wooden structures and published their findings in the Nature journal on Wednesday.

The scientists' finds consist of wooden structures and tools — such as digging sticks — found at the Kalambo Falls in Zambia. They date back to more than 476,000 years ago.

These structures — which might have been built by early humans as raised platforms to stay above the wet ground — have "no known parallels," the scientists wrote in the article. The discovery reshapes our understanding of what early humans were capable of, they added.

That's because these findings show how early humans used large tree trunks to make structures and platforms, as well as their use of wooden tools, the study's authors said.

"They used their intelligence, imagination, and skills to create something they'd never seen before, something that had never previously existed," Larry Barham, the lead researcher and a professor at the University of Liverpool, told the BBC on Wednesday.

These structures even predate the earliest known Homo Sapiens fossils, Geoff Duller — a coauthor of the study and a professor at the University of Aberystwyth — told CNN on Wednesday. Duller said the researchers were uncertain about which species of ancient humans were responsible for creating them. Homo Sapiens is the species that modern humans belong to.

The discovery of the wooden structures was first made in 2019. The scientists wrote in the article that they used luminescence dating — a technique that involves measuring the amount of radioactivity absorbed by rocks over millennia — to determine the age of their findings.

Wet conditions at the Kalambo Falls contributed to the rare find, as wooden materials typically fail to stand the test of time unless preserved in unusual conditions like being waterlogged, the article said.

Archeological discoveries such as these wooden structures help shape our understanding of human history — like how early humans hunted or the origin of some of the boulders that make up Stonehenge today.

Last year alone saw a series of archeological finds — like the earliest-known human amputation and the discovery of a lost city in Iraq after an intense drought.

The paper's authors did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Insider, sent outside regular business hours.

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