Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
online news
World's Earliest Woodworking? January 31, 2001
by Angela M.H. Schuster

[image] Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo of the Universidad Complutense, Madrid, examines material recently excavated at Peninj, Tanzania (Courtesy Universidad Complutense, Madrid) [LARGER IMAGE]

Did Homo erectus take shop? An assemblage of 1.5-million-year-old stone hand axes unearthed in Tanzania says yes, contends Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo of the Universidad Complutense, Madrid, who recently excavated the tools at Peninj, a site west of Lake Natron. The axes, worn from heavy use, bear traces of acacia wood on their blades, the world's earliest evidence for woodworking. "Until now," says Dominguez-Rodrigo, "it was believed that our ancestors' toolkit was limited to simple hand-held stone tools until about 500,000 years ago, when wooden tools and weapons appear to have come into use. The oldest-known wooden implements, from 400,000 years ago, are a set of spruce spears, found near Hannover, Germany, and a yew lance tip from Clacton-on-Sea, England; a 500,000-year-old fossilized rhinoceros shoulder blade with a projectile point wound was found recently at Boxgrove, England, attesting the development of spears by that date. "That our forebears had the ability to fashion wood into utensils a million years earlier than previously thought," adds Dominguez-Rodrigo, "will cause us to reassess our understanding of their ability to hunt and gather." As for what may have been crafted of acacia wood at Peninj remains to be determined; no wooden artifacts were recovered.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America