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Evidence of Woodworking Extends High Human Intelligence Far Back into the Mid-Pleistocene

Photo credit: Professor Larry Barham, University of Liverpool, via EurekAlert!

A new article at Science Daily reports, “Archaeologists discover world’s oldest wooden structure. Pre-dates Homo sapiens.” According to the news from the University of Liverpool, “Half a million years ago, earlier than was previously thought possible, humans were building structures made of wood, according to new research.” The article states:

Expert analysis of stone tool cut-marks on the wood show that these early humans shaped and joined two large logs to make a structure, probably the foundation of a platform or part of a dwelling.

This is the earliest evidence from anywhere in the world of the deliberate crafting of logs to fit together. Until now, evidence for the human use of wood was limited to its use for making fire, digging sticks and spears.

Consider the Implications

The technical study, published in Nature, finds “Evidence for the earliest structural use of wood at least 476,000 years ago.” The authors, led by Lawrence Barham, comment on the implications:

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 hominins, forcing re-examination of the use of trees in the history of technology.

The paper notes that if there is highly intelligent woodworking from long ago, it’s difficult for such evidence to be preserved in the archaeological record:

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 material.

This rare find shows that some of the very human-like forms in the fossil record — perhaps Neanderthals which lived at this time period — were actually much smarter than we thought. In any case, this kind of evidence does not support the idea that early humans were unintelligent brutes and that we are descended from intellectually primitive precursors.