Image: MANUEL DOMINGUEZ-RODRIGO, Earthwatch Institute

Archaeologists have discovered the earliest evidence for woodworking yet. According to a report published in the April issue of the Journal of Human Evolution, 1.5-million-year-old stone tools belonging to Homo erectus sport telltale traces of acacia wood. The new finding predates the oldest known wooden implements by about a million years.

Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo (right) of the Universidad Complutense in Madrid and his colleagues unearthed the ancient hand axes, which were made in the so-called Acheulean tradition, at a site called Peninj in Tanzania. Subsequent microanalyses of the matrix adhering to the tools revealed residues of wood indistinguishable from those known from acacia. Furthermore, the tools exhibit wear patterns indicative of heavy-duty activities, such as hardwood working.

"The importance of this study is that it shows that humans, at a very early stage of their evolution, were producing wooden implements that have not been preserved in the archaeological record," the researchers write in their report. Although it has been suggested that such early hominids lacked the necessary technology for hunting, the new study opens up the possibility that they were making wooden spears. "This could have enhanced their adaptation as hunters to open environments," the team notes, "and gives us further insight into the complex intelligence of hominids at that time."