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Archaeologists date prehistoric timber structures

Last Updated: Sunday, December 23, 2012 - 16:17

Berlin: A research team has successfully dated four prehistoric water wells in Germany, the oldest known timber constructions in the world, built by the first central European agricultural civilization.

Researchers used the dendrochronology or growth ring dating technique to ascertain the age of the wells, which were excavated in the Greater Leipzig region. They were built by the Linear Pottery culture, which existed from roughly 5,600-4,900 BC.

The team, led by Willy Tegel and Dietrich Hakelberg from Institute of Forest Growth of the University of Freiburg, Germany, offers a new insight into prehistoric technology, the journal Public Library of Science ONE reports.

The four early Neolithic wells were constructed from oak wood. Besides timber, many other waterlogged organic materials, such as plant remains, wooden artefacts, bark vessels, and bast fibre cords, as well as an array of richly decorated ceramic vessels, have survived for millennia, hermetically sealed below groundwater level.

The tests revealed that the wood comes from massive old oak trees felled by early Neolithic farmers with stone adzes (a tool similar to an axe) between 5,206 and 5,098 BC, according to a Freiburg statement.

Using the state-of-the-art laser scanning technology, the scientists collected data on the timbers and tool marks and documented the highly developed woodworking skills of the early Neolithic settlers.

The well-preserved tool marks and timber joints testify to unexpectedly sophisticated timber construction techniques.

In the course of the sixth millennium BC, the nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle gave way to a sedentary lifestyle with agriculture and stock breeding in central Europe. This break in the history of humankind has been termed the "Neolithic revolution".

A sedentary lifestyle required permanent housing, and houses are inconceivable without a developed woodworking technology -- in other words, the first farmers were also the first carpenters.

Until now, however, archaeologists have only succeeded in unearthing the soil marks left by their houses.


First Published: Sunday, December 23, 2012 - 16:17
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