Archaeological discoveries can be found in all sorts of places, from the shoreline of a Siberian reservoir to an Australian metro tunnel. In 2018, a wooden crate-like object was unearthed during the construction of a motorway near the town of Ostrov, Czech Republic.
In a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, researchers dated the structure to around 7,275 years old – an age the team claim is the world’s "oldest archaeological wood construction” confirmed using dendrochronology. This method uses precise tree-ring dating of the crate's oak timbers and the trees nearby to estimate an age.
In each growth season, trees create a new ring that reflects the weather conditions it has just survived. Due to the structure's excellent preservation, the team was able to compare the tree-ring patterns in the ancient well with those seen in other wood samples from the same region in order to estimate its age.
“It is the third well from the Early Neolithic period that has been discovered in the Czech Republic within the last four years,” according to the paper. Over 40 Neolithic water wells are known in Europe, and some in Hungary are thought to be even older than the one described in the paper. However, their dating methods differ from the one used for the current discovery.
The box is thought to have been a water well lining that measures around 80 x 80 centimeters (2.6 feet) in base area and 140 centimeters (4.6 inches) in height. The structure was likely well-persevered because it had been submerged in water for centuries. If it had been left out to dry, it would have been destroyed.
Based on the dendrochronological data, the tree that contributed to the flat planks on the side was likely felled between 5255 and 5256 BCE. In archaeological terms, this is extremely precise, particularly when compared to alternative methods of dating organic materials, such as radiocarbon dating, used for other Neolithic wells.
Not all of the Ostrov well’s wood was from this exact year, however. Two of the posts were dated to around three or four years earlier, perhaps repurposed from other structures. One of the side planks was also found to have a different age, this time later. The younger piece of wood was from a felled tree between 7,261 and 7,244 years ago, and was likely used at some stage to repair the well.
"We believe [the well] was used by settlers during what we call the Neolithic Revolution, during a transition from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlements,” explained Jaroslav Peška, head of the Archaeological Centre in Olomouc, when speaking to Czech Radio last year.
A closer inspection of the wood surfaces shows indentations concurrent with instruments used by the settlers. Tools made from stone, bones, horn, or wood appear to have been used by early Neolithic people for “sophisticated carpentry”.
“Comparing the structure of the Ostrov well with examples of carpentry from later periods raises nothing less than admiration for the perfectly precise work,” concluded the researchers.
[H/T: Science Alert]