Nav: Home

World's oldest axe fragment found in Australia

May 10, 2016

Australian archaeologists have discovered a piece of the world's oldest axe in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia.

The axe fragment is about the size of a thumbnail and dates back to a Stone Age period of 45,000 to 49,000 years ago - at, or very soon after, the time humans arrived on the continent, and more than ten millennia earlier than any previous ground-edge axe discoveries.

The University of Sydney's Professor Peter Hiscock is the lead and corresponding 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 in the early 1990s by lead archaeologist Professor Sue O'Connor from the Australian National University (ANU)among a sequence of food scraps, tools, artwork and other artifacts from Carpenter's Gap, a large rock shelter known to be one of the first sites occupied by modern humans.

"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.

In 2014, as further study was being carried out on the objects dug out of the site, Professor Hiscock's team discovered a small fragment of a polished axe, recovered from the oldest levels of the site.

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 fragment came from the polished edge when it was later re-sharpened. The team believes the axe was most likely carried away to be used elsewhere, leaving the fragment behind.

"Polished stone axes were crucial tools in hunter-gatherer societies and were once the defining characteristic of the Neolithic phase of human life. But when were axes invented? This question has been pursued for decades, since archaeologists discovered that in Australia axes were older than in many other places. Now we have a discovery that appears to answer the question," said Professor Hiscock.

Professor O'Connor said evidence suggests the technology was developed in Australia after people arrived around 50,000 years ago. "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," she said.

Professor Hiscock said the ground-edge axe technology specifically arose as the dispersing humans adapted to their new regional landscapes.

"Although humans spread across Australia, axe technology did not spread with them. Axes were only made in the tropical north, perhaps suggesting two different colonizing groups or that the technology was abandoned as people spread into desert and sub-topical woodlands," he said.

"These differences between northern Australia, where axes were always used, and southern Australia, where they were not, originated around the time of colonization and persisted until the last few thousand years when axes began to be made in most southern parts of mainland Australia."

The team's latest discoveries are published in this month's issue of the journal Australian Archaeology.
-end-


University of Sydney

Related Technology Articles:

How technology use affects at-risk adolescents
More use of technology led to increases in attention, behavior and self-regulation problems over time for adolescents already at risk for mental health issues, a new study from Duke University finds.
Hold-up in ventures for technology transfer
The transfer of technology brings ideas closer to commercialization. The transformation happens in several steps, such as invention, innovation, building prototypes, production, market introduction, market expansion, after sales services.
The ultimate green technology
Imagine patterning and visualizing silicon at the atomic level, something which, if done successfully, will revolutionize the quantum and classical computing industry.
New technology detects COPD in minutes
Pioneering research by Professor Paul Lewis of Swansea University's Medical School into one of the most common lung diseases in the UK, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, has led to the development of a new technology that can quickly and easily diagnose and monitor the condition.
New technology for powder metallurgy
Tecnalia leads EFFIPRO (Energy EFFIcient PROcess of Engineering Materials) project, which shows a new manufacturing process using powder metallurgy.
New milestone in printed photovoltaic technology
A team of researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität have achieved an important milestone in the quest to develop efficient solar technology as an alternative to fossil fuels.
Gene Drive Technology: Where is the future?
For this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Gene Drive Committee co-chair James P.
Could Hollywood technology help your health?
The same technology used by the entertainment industry to animate characters such as Gollum in 'The Lord of The Rings' films, will be used to help train elite athletes, for medical diagnosis and even to help improve prosthetic limb development, in a new research center at the University of Bath launched today.
Assessing carbon capture technology
Carbon capture and storage could be used to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and thus ameliorate their impact on climate change.
New technology for dynamic projection mapping
It has been thought technically difficult to achieve projection mapping onto a moving/rotating object so that images look as though they are fixed to the object.

Related Technology Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".