World's oldest wooden object soon to be on display in Czechia

7,000-year-old well

A 7,000-year-old well found in Czechia’s Pardubice region six years ago will soon be on display as part of an archaeological exhibition at the Museum of East Bohemia. The wooden well, which has been in the care of restorers for the last few years, is, according to analyses, the oldest wooden man-made object in the world.

The oldest wooden well in Europe | Photo: Regional museum Pardubice

The discovery of the Neolithic well on the site of a planned motorway in 2018 caused much excitement, with experts already suggesting then that it may be the oldest wooden structure ever found in Europe. This was confirmed a couple of years later by dendrochronological and radiocarbon dating analyses, which showed that the prehistoric wooden structure was not only the oldest known such object found in Europe, but indeed anywhere in the world, dating back to 5,256 or 5,255 BCE.

The well uses building techniques that archaeologists had previously assumed had only appeared later, during the Bronze Age, and the level of technical skill is impressive, says restorer Karol Bayer.

“What we found interesting was that they only had very simple stone tools to work with, which they nevertheless managed to use very effectively to create precise shapes. And if we look closer at the surface of the wood, we can see the marks of later additions made by sharp stone objects. It’s fascinating to be able to see the traces of handiwork done by a person who lived 7,000 years ago.”

Restoration of the oldest wooden well in the world | Photo: University of Pardubice

As well as showing that Neolithic people were capable of more sophisticated construction techniques than previously assumed, the well can also provide evidence of what they ate, says archaeologist Tomáš Zavoral.

“We were able to identify various micro-traces of plants and grains. One of the important findings was that we discovered possibly the earliest traces of poppy seed and flax in the Czech Republic.”

The excavation of the oak well was itself logistically and technically demanding, and the subsequent restoration and conservation took years of work by five restorers, one of whom was Karol Bayer, vice-dean of Pardubice University’s Faculty of Restoration, who says they were helped by the fact that the well was found in a relatively good condition.

“It was found in an environment where there was very little oxygen and it was protected from water. So the types of bacteria that feed on organic material didn’t have the right conditions to thrive, which allowed it to be preserved for such a long time.”

The excavation site | Photo: Ondřej Wolf,  Czech Radio

After the careful removal of soil residues and treatment with a biocidal agent, the wood was impregnated for 16 months in a sucrose solution, intended to strengthen it and prevent it from shrinking. It was then left to dry for a year.

After this long and careful process, the well was finally moved recently to the depository of the Museum of East Bohemia in Pardubice, where it is now being prepared for an exhibition which should open to the public in early May. Tomáš Libánek, the museum’s director, says the well will be one of several interesting finds on display.

“We discovered a lot of interesting objects and found out lots of fascinating things about this region that we want to showcase. One of the themes of the exhibition will be water, wells, and wooden structures, so this well will obviously be the highlight there.”

Authors: Anna Fodor , Naďa Kubínková | Source: Český rozhlas
run audio