World’s old­est axe frag­ment un­earthed

Pilbara News - - Pilbara News - Glenn Cord­ing­ley

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.

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