Leipzig - Archaeologists investigating 7,000-year-old wooden wells discovered in eastern Germany have concluded that the first farmers were also probably the world's first skilled carpenters.

The four wells discovered near Leipzig have surprised experts by their unexpectedly sophisticated carpentry, suggesting that long before the invention of metal tools people were able to build elaborate wooden structures.

The wells were constructed in the early Neolithic period and consist of wood-lined shafts as much as seven metres deep. The planks of each shaft were fitted together using complex corner joints.

“This sophisticated technology was a big surprise,” Willy Tegel, the Freiburg University archaeologist who led the research team, wrote in the science journal PLoS One.

The researchers concluded that the living standard seven millennia ago was probably higher than previously believed.

The wells might be the oldest precisely dated wooden structures in the world, according to Tegel's colleague Dietrich Hakelberg.

Archaeologists knew that in central Europe 7,000 years ago hunter-gatherers were gradually settling in villages but almost none of the woodwork such as houses has survived. So experts could only speculate what life at the time looked like. Hence the importance of the discovery of the four wells.

Because the timber was beneath the water table and so cut off from oxygen, it has survived over thousands of years. Based on annual tree-growth rings, scientists have dated the timber to between 5206 and 5098 BC.

Based on this discovery the image of our ancestors now has to be revised, Tegel said.

“In reconstructions the buildings and infrastructure from this period have probably been under-estimated. If the people at this site were able to use such complex wood-working techniques, we need to reconsider our previous way of envisaging such buildings.” - Sapa-dpa