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In The Beginning, There Was Wood…

Sinden Jason

Why the 21st Century will be the ‘Wood-Age’
Part 1: In The Beginning, There Was Wood…

Sinden Jason

In an eight-part series leading up to the 2016 ICF National Conference, Tilhill Forestry’s Investment and Property Director Jason Sinden MICFor looks at developments in the timber supply chain that have created a new ‘Wood-Age’. In part one, he takes us back to the dawn of the Homo sapiens era and how our trees and forests influenced the development of our species.


Mankind owes his very existence to forests and to wood.

Around 85 million years ago, our ancestors, the first primates learnt to climb trees to escape from predators. Over time we evolved distinct arms, legs and hands to allow us to climb better. To enable us to see food amongst the forest canopy, we evolved forward facing eyes, with binocular vision and excellent perception of colour and depth. This evolution altered the entire structure of our brains.

Approximately 7.5 million years ago, we climbed down from the trees and began to make tools from wood and stone.

Our ancestors have used wooden tools for around 7.5 million years

history of wood use 1

Image source: Daily Mail

The real break-through came 800,000 years ago when we learnt how to burn wood. This development was quickly followed by increasing brain size, probably due to improved nutrition due to cooking. It is believed that our long periods of childhood evolved in this period.

The construction of wooden thrusting spears and trap-pits lined with wooden spikes enabled humans to catch increasingly large prey, changing our diet forever. Meantime, the invention of charcoal and wooden ‘crayons’ (faceted wooden sticks with pigment) allowed our ancestors to convey complex ideas leading to the development of organised religion and art. However, it was the development of wooden structures which allowed humans to survive in new areas. With our wooden tools, timber shelters and wood-fires, mankind was able to spread out of Africa and colonise the world….


“Art makes us human.” Wood (charcoal) has provided an excellent medium since the stone age

history of wood use 2

Image Source: PJF Harris


Building basic wooden shelters allowed mankind to spread out of Africa…

history of wood use 3

Image source: Survival Lilly


…and cooking transformed our diet

history of wood use 4

Image source: Wilderness Survival Skills

So, in summary, forests and timber has shaped our bodies, the structure of our brains, our development of technology, our increased brain size, children, art, the development of religion and abstract ideas, cooked food and facilitated our colonisation of the planet.

Indeed, without trees and wood, we wouldn’t be human at all.

Part 2: How Forests and Trees Civilised Us

Part 3: Building Our Future Out of Wood


The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation. Jason Sinden MICFor is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd. Further information is available from;

Jason Sinden (LinkedIn)

Tilhill Forestry



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