Evidence for the earliest structural use of wood at least 476,000 years ago
Wood artefacts rarely survive from the Early Stone Age since they require exceptional conditions for preservation; consequently, we have limited information about when and how hominins used this basic raw material1. We report here on the earliest evidence for structural use of wood in the archaeological record. Waterlogged deposits at the archaeological site of Kalambo Falls, Zambia, dated by luminescence to at least 476 ± 23 kyr ago (ka), preserved two interlocking logs joined transversely by an intentionally cut notch. This construction has no known parallels in the African or Eurasian Palaeolithic. The earliest known wood artefact is a fragment of polished plank from the Acheulean site of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel, more than 780 ka (refs. 2,3). Wooden tools for foraging and hunting appear 400 ka in Europe4–8, China9 and possibly Africa10. At Kalambo we also recovered four wood tools from 390 ka to 324 ka, including a wedge, digging stick, cut log and notched branch. The finds show an unexpected early diversity of forms and the capacity to shape tree trunks into large combined structures. These new data not only extend the age range of woodworking in Africa but expand our understanding of the technical cognition of early hominins11, forcing re-examination of the use of trees in the history of technology12,13.