According to scientists, a rock flake discovered in Australia is thought to be from the world’s oldest known axe and dates from around 50,000 years ago, just after humans arrived in the country.
The thumbnail-sized fragment was discovered in Western Australia’s sparsely inhabited Kimberley region, and its age suggests that early indigenous technology was innovative and inventive.
“This is without a doubt the oldest axe in the world,” said Peter Hiscock, an academic at the University of Sydney who examined the fragment.
The artefact was discovered in the 1990s, but its significance was only recently recognised and confirmed by advanced technologies.
“It’s a relatively small part, it’s not much more than a centimetre (half an inch) long,” Hiscock said, analysing the piece with a digital microscope and determining it was man-made.
“It’s one flake from the edge of a polished or ground-edged axe.”
‘Capacity to innovate’
Hiscock noted that the first emergence of axes in Australia seems to correlate with the presence of humans in the landscape.
“The confluence of the timing of human arrival with the appearance of axes demonstrates creativity,” he said.
“Axes were not manufactured in Africa or the Middle East.”
“As a result, those fleeing Africa did not have axes.” They come to Australia and invent this technology. It demonstrates that there was a novelty and the ability to create.”
He went on to say that the axe fragment was not the first of its like discovered in Australia, demonstrating that the country’s indigenous peoples’ forebears were skilled at making the tools they need.
“I believe this indicates that axes were invented by early settlers, the forebears of Australian Aboriginals,” he said.
“Nowhere in the world would you get axes at this date,” she said in a report, adding that while such axes appeared around 35,000 years ago in Japan, they arrived with agriculture in most other countries within the previous 10,000 years.
“Australian stone artefacts are frequently characterised as basic,” she says.
“However, that is clearly not the case when you have these hafted axes sooner in Australia than anyplace else in the globe.”
According to the ANU, the piece is from an axe that was shaped and polished by grinding it against a softer rock such as sandstone.