World’s oldest axe discovered Down Under

11 May 20164 Shares

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Prof Sue O’Connor & Tim Maloney with axe examples, via ANU

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Fragments of an axe dated as far back as 47,000BC, far older than previous finds, have been discovered in Australia.

Humankind started getting serious about agriculture around 10,000 years ago. When that happened, populations massed around food sources, tools and structures were carved and built, civilisation prospered and cities emerged.

So most archaeological findings of ‘early’ tools like axes come from around 10,000 years ago, with some notable exceptions. However, making a find that dates back 49,000 years is remarkable.

An example of a hafted axe similar to the one the unearthed flakes would have come from, via ANU

An example of a hafted axe similar to the one the unearthed flakes would have come from, via ANU

Get to work

It suggests that technology developed rather quickly after people made it to Australia, which is thought to have happened around 50,000 years ago. The technology was not imported, according to the archaeologists who worked on this paper.

“We know that they didn’t have axes where they came from. There are no axes in the islands to our north. They arrived in Australia and innovated axes,” said lead archaeologist on the study, Prof Sue O’Connor.

“In Japan, such axes appear about 35,000 years ago. But, in most countries in the world, they arrive with agriculture, around 10,000 years ago.”

Carpenter's Gap | Axe

Axe flakes

The find – which was made in the brilliantly-named Carpenter’s Gap – was just a few flakes, with no evidence that the axe was adopted throughout the large country immediately after its creation.

“Axes were only made in the tropical north,” said Prof Peter Hiscock, who worked on the findings. Hiscock said axes only migrated into southern Australia in the “last few thousand years”.

The discovered axe was made of basalt that had been shaped and polished by grinding it against a softer rock like sandstone.

This type of axe would have been very useful for a variety of tasks, including making spears and chopping down or taking the bark off trees.

Examples of the type of axes the blade fragments would have been from, via Stuart Hay, ANU

Examples of the type of axes the blade fragments would have been from, via Stuart Hay, ANU

Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

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