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The World’s Oldest Wooden Architecture

by Kyle Chayka on December 20, 2012

The location of the wooden well lining (All images via plosone.org)

The location of the wooden well lining (All images via plosone.org)

The starchitecture of Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Rem Koolhaas might rule the day today, but the world’s earliest architecture was quite a bit more, shall we say, austere. Archaeologists have unearthed the oldest known example of wooden architecture, a 7,000-year old structure.

Dated to 5469-5098 BCE, the find is a wooden lining for a water well made out of oak timbers discovered in eastern Germany. The open vertical shaft measuring seven meters in height was made from a surprisingly complex system of interlocking pins and joinery, and need result has a ramshackle, functional beauty that wouldn’t be out of place in a building by Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori (or a Brooklyn artisanal cocktail bar).

Diagram of the well lining construction

Diagram of the well lining construction

During the Neolithic period when the well was built, humans were just beginning to develop technology. The period began with the rise of farming and included the creation of stone tools and bone chisels, the same implements that the architects of the well would have used. The sophistication of the structure is surprising — the four wells found at the site show signs of continuous use over 100 years, and demonstrate an ability to cooperate on large projects.

The wells “reveal unexpectedly refined carpentry skills,” the full scientific investigation reports, and they “contradict the common belief that metal was necessary for complex timber constructions.”

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