Precise dating shows Czech well is oldest wooden structure in the world

Photo: archive of Archaeological Centre in Olomouc

The world‘s oldest wooden structure is in the Czech Republic and it is a Neolithic well, according to newly published dating test results conducted by a team of researchers at the Mendel University in Brno. The well was found in Eastern Bohemia and is more than 7,000 years old. It shows that Neolithic peoples were capable of more sophisticated construction techniques than previously assumed.

Photo: archive of Archaeological Centre in Olomouc

Last year, a team of Czech archaeologists discovered an ancient well made out of oak while excavating near the construction site of the new D35 motorway around the town of Ostrov.

Already then experts were suggesting that it may be the oldest wooden structure ever discovered in Europe.

Now test results that rely on both radio-carbon dating and the much more precise dendrochronological method, which studies the tree ring sequences in wood, have narrowed down the age to either 5,256 or 5,255 BCE.

Jaroslav Peška,  photo: Vít Pohanka
Jaroslav Peška, the director of the Archaeological Centre in Olomouc which undertook the excavations, explains.

“[Archaeologists] have of course found wood used by humans that is older, but this sort of dendrochronological data is not available for these items. This is also the case with wells.

“For example, those found in Hungary may one day be shown to be even more ancient.

“However, for now, as far as we know, these have only been radiocarbon dated. That form of dating is far too wide to give us the ability to precisely date when the tree was felled.”

The structure managed to survive for so long, because the surrounding conditions were perfect, he says.

“When blessed by such conditions - wetness and lack of oxygen – oak almost gets fossilised. It becomes very hard and durable wood.

“This is what happened in our case and is the reason why it was so well preserved.

Photo: archive of Archaeological Centre in Olomouc
The well has the shape of a block, which is 140cm high and has a square shaped top where each side measures 80cm. When it was found, four wooden stakes made up the corners of the structure, with planks being placed in their grooves.

It is a building technique that archaeologists had previously assumed only appeared later, during the Bronze Age.

“It is a technique that we previously had no evidence for from the Neolithic era. However, now we have two examples that prove it was known and used. One is from this find in Ostrov.

"The other is from Uničov in Moravia, where the well is about 160 years younger, but it was made by the same culture.”

The builders of the wells were people belonging to the so-called Linear Pottery culture, the first farmers who settled in Central Europe during the sixth millennium BCE. They built long, timber dwellings, sometimes up to 45m long.

The people of the Linear Pottery culture were also the first on the territory to incorporate ceramic vessels into their earthenware.