World’s oldest axe fragment unearthed
A piece of the world’s oldest axe about the size of a thumbnail has been discovered by Australian archaeologists in a remote part of WA’s Kimberley region, about 145km east of Derby.
The fragment was originally excavated in the early 1990s from a large rock shelter known as Carpenter's Gap at the Windjana Gorge National Park in the King Leopold Ranges.
It dates back to a Stone Age period 45,000 to 49,000 years ago, about the time humans arrived on the continent and more than 10 millennia earlier than any previous ground-edge axe discoveries.
Carpenter’s Gap was thought to be one of the first sites occupied by modern humans.
The University of Sydney’s Professor Peter Hiscock is author of a new analysis of the fragment published in the journal Australian Archaeology.
He said the axe revealed that the first Australians were technological innovators.
“Since there are no known axes in Southeast Asia during the Ice Age, this discovery shows us that when humans arrived in Australia they began to experiment with new technologies, inventing ways to exploit the resources they encountered in the new Australian landscape,” he said.
The axe fragment was initially excavated by lead archaeologist Professor Sue O’Connor from the Australian National University among a sequence of food scraps, tools, artwork and other artefacts.
“Nowhere else in the world do you get axes at this date. In Japan such axes appear about 35,000 years ago. But in most countries in the world they arrive with agriculture after 10,000 years ago,” Professor O’Connor said.
New studies of the fragment have revealed that it comes from an axe that had been shaped from basalt then polished by grinding it on another rock until it was very smooth.
The team’s latest discoveries are published in this month’s issue of Australian Archaeology.