Oldest Wooden Structure Found in Zambia

In the heart of northeastern Zambia, at the captivating Kalambo Falls archaeological site, a discovery has rewritten the history books. Archaeologists unearthed specimens of ancient wooden in the form of logs, remarkably preserved in waterlogged sand beside the Kalambo River for an astonishing half a million years – precisely 476,000 years. While the initial explorers were uncertain about the nature of their find, a recent study conducted by archaeologists from the University of Liverpool and Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom has shed light on the mystery. It turns out that these logs were intentionally cut and shaped for use as building materials. Using the cutting-edge dating technology known as luminescence, the archaeologists confirmed the astounding age of these incredibly ancient artifacts.

Crafting the World’s Oldest Wooden Structure: Pioneering Hominins

Oldest Wooden
The archaeological crew revealing the ancient wooden edifice. ( Source )

These logs represent the oldest wooden structure ever discovered worldwide. To put it in perspective, there was a polished wooden plank found at the Gesher Benot Ya’aqov archaeological site in Israel, dating back 780,000 years, but it was likely just an artifact and not part of an actual building.

Stone tools were employed to cut and shape the two logs, which were laid crosswise and connected to create the foundation for a platform or the walls of some type of dwelling. It’s hard to overstate how astonishing this discovery is; it provides the earliest evidence of humans using cut logs as building materials.

Normally, wood doesn’t survive for hundreds of thousands of years, as it tends to rot and decay. However, at the Kalambo Falls site, the water levels of the Kalambo River are higher than usual, saturating the surrounding sand and protecting the cut logs from the erosive forces of nature.

Up until now, it was believed that archaic humans half a million years ago would have only used wood for digging sticks, spears, or fire. But this remarkable discovery proves that the woodworking abilities of archaic hominin species have been greatly underestimated.

Tracking the Triumph of Early Settlers: Kalambo Falls Revelation

Oldest Wooden
A chisel employed to craft the wooden construction. ( Source )

This finding challenges the notion that early Stone Age humans were solely nomadic, practicing a hunter-gatherer lifestyle on the move. It appears that some of these archaic hominins recognized Kalambo Falls as an ideal settlement site. The deep river provided a consistent source of fresh water, replenished by the towering 772-foot (235-meter) waterfall, while the forest in this part of southern Africa offered abundant building materials and food sources to sustain a small permanent population.

The only drawback of living in such a location would have been occasional flooding. It’s plausible that the early humans constructed their simple houses on raised platforms to protect them from the river’s overflow. Given the arrangement of the newly discovered 476,000-year-old logs, they may have once formed part of such a platform.

In a press release from the University of Liverpool, archaeologist Larry Barham, the leader of the ‘Deep Roots of Humanity’ research project behind these findings, elaborated on their significance.

A Unique Historical Site: Kalambo Falls and Its Rich Legacy

Oldest Wooden
Dr. Larry Barham (seen on the right in the photo) exposing the wooden structure alongside the riverbank using a delicate mist. ( Source )

Prior discoveries at the Kalambo Falls site, situated on the border between northeastern Zambia and Tanzania, had already indicated that this location had been inhabited since ancient times. Due to its archaeological importance, Kalambo Falls has been nominated for inclusion on UNESCO’s “tentative” list of World Heritage sites.

Ongoing research at Kalambo Falls is exclusively conducted by archaeologists affiliated with the ‘Deep Roots of Humanity’ project, funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council. This collaborative effort involves archaeologists and experts from Zambia’s National Heritage Conservation Commission, Livingstone Museum, Moto Museum, and National Museum in Lusaka.

Geoff Duller, an archaeologist from Aberystwyth University and co-author of the study, stated, “Our research proves that this site is much older than previously thought, so its archaeological significance is now even greater. It adds more weight to the argument that it should be a United Nations World Heritage Site.”

Regardless of whether it receives this status, Kalambo Falls will forever be remembered as the site where the world’s oldest wooden structure was unearthed.


The discovery at Kalambo Falls challenges our understanding of early human civilization. It demonstrates that ancient humans possessed advanced woodworking skills and were capable of settling in one place. This remarkable find enriches our knowledge of our ancestors and highlights the importance of preserving archaeological sites like Kalambo Falls.

How old are the wooden logs found at Kalambo Falls?

The logs are approximately 476,000 years old, making them the oldest wooden structure ever discovered.

What tools were used to shape the logs?

Stone tools were used to cut and shape the logs into building materials.

Why were the logs preserved for so long?

The high water levels of the Kalambo River saturated the sand, protecting the logs from decay.

What does this discovery tell us about early human civilization?

It challenges the belief that early humans were strictly nomadic and suggests they were capable of settled living and advanced woodworking.

Is Kalambo Falls a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

It’s on UNESCO’s “tentative” list for potential inclusion as a World Heritage site, and ongoing research aims to strengthen its case for this status.

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