Archaeologists have discovered the oldest timber in the world, estimated to be close to half a million years old, upstream of the Kalambo Falls, near the border between Zambia and Tanzania. It has no parallel in the world.
A digging stick and other wooden tools were found at the same site.
The simple structure is made up of two interlocking logs, with a cut intentionally created at the top to allow them to fit together at right angles, according to a new study of cut marks made by stone tools.
According to CNN, the piece was discovered in 2019, and Geoff Duller, professor of geography and earth sciences at Aberystwyth University in the UK, who took part in the discovery, says that the piece would probably have been part of a wooden platform used as a treadmill, to keep food or firewood dry or perhaps as a base for the construction of a dwelling.
"The fact that the wood has remained in place and intact for half a million years is extraordinary. And it gives us this real insight, this window into this period of time," said Duller, co-author of the study on the wood structure that was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.
The wooden structure has no real parallel in the archaeological record, according to the study.
"It completely changed my view of what people were capable of back then," he added.
Wooden artifacts are rarely preserved in the archaeological record, particularly at such an ancient site, because organic material rots and disintegrates easily. At Kalambo, Duller said that the high water levels and fine sediments surrounding the structure helped preserve the wood.
The discovery challenges the prevailing view that Stone Age humans had a nomadic lifestyle, said Duller. The Kalambo waterfalls would have provided a reliable source of water and the surrounding forest ample food, perhaps allowing for a more stable existence.
The oldest known wooden artifact is a 780,000-year-old fragment of polished board found at the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site in Israel, while the oldest recorded wooden foraging and hunting utensils - discovered in Europe - date back around 400,000 years. Neanderthals are thought to have built structures from bones or stalactites around 175,000 years ago.