World's Oldest Axe Fragment Discovered in Western Australia

Posted on May 10, 2016

The world's oldest axe fragment has been discovered by Australian archaeologists. The thumbnail-sized fragment was found in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. The image above shows the fragment as seen under a microscope.

Professor Peter Hiscock from the University of Sydney is the lead author of the axe fragment analysis. The axe fragment is dates back to the Stone Age period of 45,000 to 49,000. It is over 10,000 years older than any previous ground-edge axe discoveries.

Hiscock says in a statement, "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."

The scientists say the axe had been shaped from basalt. It was then polished by grinding it on another rock until it was very smooth. The researchers say the axe was likely then carried off to be used elsewhere. The fragment was left behind at that time.

Hiscock also says, "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."

The axe fragment was initially excavated during the exploration of a large rock shelter in the early 1990s led by Professor Sue O'Connor from the Australian National University (ANU). A further study of the excavated objects by Hiscock's team revealed the small axe fragment.

O'Connor says the evidence suggests the axe technology was developed in Australia after people arrived about 50,000 years ago. She says no evidence has been found of ancient axes on island to the north of Australia. She says, "They arrived in Australia and innovated axes."

A research paper on the study was published here in the journal, Australian Archaeology.

More from Science Space & Robots