World’s oldest timber structures

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The identification of four 7,000-year-old wells as the world’s oldest-known timber structures suggests that Neolithic communities were capable of much more sophisticated woodworking techniques with stone tools than previously thought, newly published research says.

Previous excavations at three Neolithic settlements near Leipzig, Germany, had uncovered four well-shafts, each lined with oak planks preserved for thousands of years below groundwater level. Dendrochronological analysis of 151 timbers, led by Willy Tegel and Dr Dietrich Hakelberg at the University of Freiberg, has now revealed that these came from trees felled between 5206 and 5098 BC – more than 1,000 years before the development of metal tools in central Europe.

Writing in PLOS ONE, the team say that the timbers were from mature oaks 1m (3ft 3in) in diameter, which Neolithic woodcutters would have felled and split using stone adzes.

‘This demonstrates that the first farmers were also the first carpenters, contradicting common beliefs that metal woodworking tools were imperative for complex timber constructions,’ they write.

Examining the well-preserved timbers has revealed that the people who made the well linings had highly developed carpentry skills, using complex interlocking corner joints to secure the planks in a box-like frame. This could indicate that other Neolithic structures, such as houses, may have been more complex than modern reconstructions have assumed, the researchers suggest.

This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 57. Click here to subscribe

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