Anyone writing a book about the history of carpentry may want to include these latest discoveries in the first chapter: Wooden water wells made out of oak timbers dated to over 7,000 years ago were discovered in eastern Germany, and their workmanship suggests an unexpected sophistication in carpentry skills for Neolithic farming communities of the time. The oak timbers, 151 in all, were preserved in a waterlogged environment were dated to between 5469 and 5098 BC.
"This early Neolithic craftsmanship now suggests that the first farmers were also the first carpenters", a study of the finds reports.
Moreover, they were made long before metal was discovered and used in the manufacture of tools that would have been used to fashion and construct the wells. It challenges previous assumptions that metal tools were required to create more complex wooden structures, such as these wells.
So how were they made without metal tools?
They were made by using stone adzes of at least two different sizes to produce finely cut timbers and then employing sophisticated wooden corner joining and log constructions through wedge tusk tenon joints and interlocked corner joints. Examination of tool marks also suggests the use of bone chisels in the process. Even today, certain kinds of carpentry are employed in this fashion without nails, screws and power tools, although metal tools are most often used.
The European Neolithization ~6000−4000 BC represents a pivotal change in human history when farming spread and the mobile style of life of the hunter-foragers was superseded by the agrarian culture. Permanent settlement structures and agricultural production systems required fundamental innovations in technology, subsistence, and resource utilization. Motivation, course, and timing of this transformation, however, remain debatable. Here we present annually resolved and absolutely dated dendroarchaeological information from four wooden water wells of the early Neolithic period that were excavated in Eastern Germany. A total of 151 oak timbers preserved in a waterlogged environment were dated between 5469 and 5098 BC and reveal unexpectedly refined carpentry skills. The recently discovered water wells enable for the first time a detailed insight into the earliest wood architecture and display the technological capabilities of humans ~7000 years ago. The timbered well constructions made of old oak trees feature an unopened tree-ring archive from which annually resolved and absolutely dated environmental data can be culled. Our results question the principle of continuous evolutionary development in prehistoric technology, and contradict the common belief that metal was necessary for complex timber constructions. Early Neolithic craftsmanship now suggests that the first farmers were also the first carpenters.