This simple log structure may be the oldest example of early humans building with wood

An excavation team uncovers a wooden structure found on a riverbed near a waterfall in Zambia in 2019. (Larry Barham/University of Liverpool via AP)

NEW YORK — Researchers have uncovered a simple structure from the Stone Age that may be the oldest evidence yet of early humans building with wood.

The construction is basic: a pair of overlapping logs, fitted together with a notch. It’s nearly half a million years old and provides a rare look at how ancient human relatives were working with wood and changing their environments, authors wrote in a study published Wednesday in Nature.


“It took me a while before I appreciated what we were looking at,” said study author Larry Barham, an archaeologist at the University of Liverpool. “It didn’t look very nice, to be honest. But it is much more complex than I thought.”

Barham and his team dug up the log structure — plus a handful of wooden tools — from a riverbed site that sits above a waterfall in Zambia. They think the crossed logs could have been the base for a bigger structure like a walkway or a platform.

Usually, wood rots quickly when it’s exposed to the elements, which has left us with little evidence of how our ancient relatives used the material, Barham explained. But these materials were submerged in the river, which helped preserve them.

So when his team uncovered the logs in 2019, they were still able to see telltale signs that early humans had shaped them — carving out a notch in the upper log, tapering off the ends and leaving tool marks across the surface.

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