Science

World's oldest axe fragment found in Australia

World's oldest axe fragment fo...
The world's oldest axe fragment, discovered in a remote region of Australia, is about the size of a thumbnail and dates back to 45,000-49,000 years ago
The world's oldest axe fragment, discovered in a remote region of Australia, is about the size of a thumbnail and dates back to 45,000-49,000 years ago
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Professor Peter Hiscock, who led the study, holds a hafted axe – which he believes is indicative of the kind the fragment came from
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Professor Peter Hiscock, who led the study, holds a hafted axe – which he believes is indicative of the kind the fragment came from
The world's oldest axe fragment, discovered in a remote region of Australia, is about the size of a thumbnail and dates back to 45,000-49,000 years ago
2/2
The world's oldest axe fragment, discovered in a remote region of Australia, is about the size of a thumbnail and dates back to 45,000-49,000 years ago

A thumbnail-sized fragment of a ground-edge stone axe found in Australia predates previous discoveries by more than 10,000 years. The axe fragment, which was discovered in a remote area of Western Australia, is estimated to be between 45,000 and 49,000 years old. Archeologists from the University of Sydney believe it was invented soon after humans arrived in Australia around 50,000 years ago in response to new environmental contexts.

The researchers note a similar sudden appearance of ground-edge tools in Asia when people first colonized the Japanese archipelago about 38,000 years ago. They believe this is evidence of a pattern of innovation tied to the colonizing process. "Dispersing humans were often innovating as they entered new territories, rather than maintaining technologies that had been employed previously," they write in a journal paper.

Curiously, the technology does not appear to have spread across Australia with the early settlers. Current evidence suggests that ground-edge axes were only used in the tropical northern regions. The oldest axes found in southern parts of mainland Australia date back no further than a few thousand years.

This indicates that either two different groups colonized the continent or people abandoned the technology as they spread into desert and subtropical woodlands.

Professor Peter Hiscock, who led the study, holds a hafted axe – which he believes is indicative of the kind the fragment came from
Professor Peter Hiscock, who led the study, holds a hafted axe – which he believes is indicative of the kind the fragment came from

The axe fragment comes from a site called Carpenter's Gap 1 in Western Australia's remote Kimberley region that was initially excavated in the early 1990s. The fragment itself was not discovered until 2014. Studies have revealed that it broke off the polished edge of an axe – possibly a rounded-edge hafted axe (an axe with a handle attached) – while its bearer re-sharpened it. The axe was shaped from basalt and smoothed and sharpened by grinding on another rock.

The discovery both provides evidence that ground-edge axe production is older than previously thought and shines new light on the adaptability of early humans. Technological innovation triggered by environmental contexts both impacted and was absorbed into cultural systems and began a process of differentiation between human societies that still goes on to this day.

A paper describing the discovery and its subsequent analysis was published in the journal Australian Archaeology.

Source: University of Sydney

A thumbnail-sized fragment of a ground-edge stone axe found in Australia predates previous discoveries by more than 10,000 years. The axe fragment, which was discovered in a remote area of Western Australia, is estimated to be between 45,000 and 49,000 years old. Archeologists from the University of Sydney believe it was invented soon after humans arrived in Australia around 50,000 years ago in response to new environmental contexts.

The researchers note a similar sudden appearance of ground-edge tools in Asia when people first colonized the Japanese archipelago about 38,000 years ago. They believe this is evidence of a pattern of innovation tied to the colonizing process. "Dispersing humans were often innovating as they entered new territories, rather than maintaining technologies that had been employed previously," they write in a journal paper.

Curiously, the technology does not appear to have spread across Australia with the early settlers. Current evidence suggests that ground-edge axes were only used in the tropical northern regions. The oldest axes found in southern parts of mainland Australia date back no further than a few thousand years.

This indicates that either two different groups colonized the continent or people abandoned the technology as they spread into desert and subtropical woodlands.

Professor Peter Hiscock, who led the study, holds a hafted axe – which he believes is indicative of the kind the fragment came from
Professor Peter Hiscock, who led the study, holds a hafted axe – which he believes is indicative of the kind the fragment came from

The axe fragment comes from a site called Carpenter's Gap 1 in Western Australia's remote Kimberley region that was initially excavated in the early 1990s. The fragment itself was not discovered until 2014. Studies have revealed that it broke off the polished edge of an axe – possibly a rounded-edge hafted axe (an axe with a handle attached) – while its bearer re-sharpened it. The axe was shaped from basalt and smoothed and sharpened by grinding on another rock.

The discovery both provides evidence that ground-edge axe production is older than previously thought and shines new light on the adaptability of early humans. Technological innovation triggered by environmental contexts both impacted and was absorbed into cultural systems and began a process of differentiation between human societies that still goes on to this day.

A paper describing the discovery and its subsequent analysis was published in the journal Australian Archaeology.

Source: University of Sydney

5 comments
Tanstar
So we have a chip of basalt. I struggle to believe that evidence this basalt was chipped off or polished by a human making an axe survived for 45,000 years.
edjudy
It would indeed have been nice if the article had contained some descriptive elements regarding the evidence that the chip had been modified by forces other than simple aging/weathering, etc. While I THINK (<- that's a BIG "I think") I can see evidence of intentional modification, I'd sure like to read the description of same from the experts.
JohnHarland
That later people in Australia did not use ground-edge tools or weapons does not indicate that they were a separate migration. Later people used different stone: they found rocks that fractured conchoidally to an edge far sharper than can ever be achieved by grinding. Suitable rocks were traded over great distances (as were ochre and other materials) along trade routes that often provided the basis both for journeys of exploration by the later European settlers, and even the routes of many of today's roads and railways. Microtomes for cutting ultra-thin sections for electron microscopy were, and possibly still are, made by fracturing special glass plates to give blades that are sharp virtually to the atomic level, hundreds of times sharper than ground-edge blades.
DomainRider
The linked article describes how this fragment shows characteristic signs of flakes removed while sharpening by grinding, as found elsewhere; including a highly polished bevel at 60-100 degrees that is not a natural feature nor typical of knapping.
RobertTritschler
Is the stone remnant of local origin or from Asia?