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Lead author Larry Barham (right) at the excavation

Photo: Professor Geoff Duller / University of Liverpool

Two large logs are said to have once served as the foundation of a platform or part of a dwelling - and are the oldest evidence to date that humans built wooden structures around half a million years ago. This is reported by researchers in the journal Nature.

The scientists discovered the find at the archaeological site near the Kalambo Falls in Zambia. It is located above a 235-meter-high waterfall on the border between Zambia and Tanzania on the edge of Lake Tanganyika. According to the team, the wood now studied is at least 476,000 years old and thus predates the development of Homo sapiens. Because it usually rots over time, wood is a rare find in such places. In this case, a permanently high water level is said to have preserved the wood, the research team reports.

The site also calls into question a common assumption, the research group continues. Namely, that the people of that time were nomads. According to previous investigations, there was everything necessary for life at the Kalambo waterfall at that time: a year-round water source as well as sufficient food and materials from the nearby forests.

For the study, the scientists from the University of Liverpool and the University of Aberystwyth analysed cut marks of stone tools on the wood. The result is the earliest evidence of the deliberate processing of logs that have been joined together to form a construction, the team writes. So far, there has only been evidence that people use wood to make fires or spears, for example.

"Forget the term 'Stone Age,' look at what these people did: they made something new and big out of wood," said the lead author of the study, Larry Barham of the University of Liverpool, according to the statement. "They changed their environment to make their lives easier, if only by building a platform where they could sit by the river to do their daily work. These people were more like us than we thought."