Ancient Well Found to Be Over 7,000 Years Old, Making It the Oldest Wooden Structure Ever Discovered

A 7,000 year-old well built by Neolithic farmers is the oldest-known wooden structure on the planet, according to archaeologists.

The "unique" find had researchers scrambling to excavate the area where it was found: a strip of motorway between the regions of Bohemia and Moravia in the north of the Czech Republic.

"We had no idea that the first farmers, who only had tools made of stone, bones, horns, or wood, were able to process the surface of felled trunks with such precision," Jaroslav Peška, who heads the Archaeological Centre in Olomouc, Moravia, told Radio Prague International in 2019.

Peška and colleagues used tree-ring (dendrochronologically) dating to determine when exactly the square-based well (80 cm x 80 cm x 140 cm) was constructed. They then checked the results against radiocarbon dated samples from the well, as well as a radiocarbon dated hazelnut and oak charcoal fragment found nearby.

"According to our findings, based particularly on dendrochronological data we can say that the tree trunks for the wood used were felled in the years 5255 and 5256 BCE," said Peška. "The rings on the trunks enable us to give a precise estimate, give [or] take one year, as to when the trees were felled."

The researchers noticed that one plank of wood was younger than the main construction, suggesting a repair was made circa 5241–5224 BCE.

However, the well is unique not just because of its age, but because of the building techniques used during its construction.

According to Peška and colleagues' paper in Journal of Archeological Science, to be published this year, it contains marks of construction techniques consistent with those used in the Bronze, Iron and even the Roman ages—ages that took place thousands of years after the Early Neolithic.

A spate of construction projects has led to a surge in archaeological discoveries in the Czech Republic—this is the third (and oldest) Neolithic well found in the country in four years.

The structure, discovered near the town of Ostrov in East Bohemia, is an isolated construction, say archaeologists. This suggests it may have served multiple settlements within the region.

A piece of antler, a ceramic bowl and a scattering of bird bones were found nearby. The team also found pottery fragments that appear to date back to the Linear Pottery (or Danube) Culture during the Early Neolithic period, as Europe transitioned to agriculture.

"These people likely built simply-structured houses and domesticated animals. And they were skilled at making ceramic objects," said Peška.

Similar wells with wooden structures from the around the same time-period have been found in Hungary, Czech Republic and Germany. Not all have been dated using dendrochronology, which means the well at Ostrov may hang on to its title as the world's oldest on a technicality.

The study's authors say they may have been brought over from South-Western Asia. Alternatively, they may have been developed to meet the specific needs of the region.

Previous research has suggested the period between 5400 to 5101 BCE was marked by severe dry and wet spring-summer seasons, with high levels of variability year-on-year. This unpredictable climate would have made wells an important resource for communities living nearby.

7,000 year old well
A wooden well thought to have been built by Neolithic farmers is the oldest known wooden object on the planet. UNIVERSITY OF PARDUBICE, FACULTY OF RESTORATION

The wooden well has managed to survive the thousands of years that have passed since it was built because it has been submerged in water. The study's authors explain that had it been taken out of the water and left to dry out, it would very quickly crumble.

Therefore, the water is to be replaced with a conservation agent you might find in your kitchen cupboard: plain white sugar.

Researchers at the University of Pardubice in the Czech Republic have helped to preserve the wooden structure by placing the planks in a sucrose solution. Over a period of several months, the solution will fortify the wood's cellular structure.