The world’s oldest axe has been dug up in Australia, showing early Aborigines were much more technically advanced that previously thought.
The axe dates back between 46,000 and 49,000 years, which coincides with the aborigines first arrival on the continent.
The hafted axe – which has a handle attached – could be 15,000 years older that the earliest found in Japan while in most countries such developments only took place 10,000 years ago.
Professor Sue O’Connor, lead archaeologist from the Australian National University, said: “This is the earliest evidence of hafted axes in the world. 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.”
“Australian stone artifacts have often been characterised as being simple. But clearly that’s not the case when you have these hafted axes earlier in Australia than anywhere else in the world,”
She added: “We know that they didn’t have axes where they came from. There’s no axes in the islands to our north. They arrived in Australia and innovated axes”.
The axe fragment was initially excavated in the early 1990s by Professor O’Connor at Carpenter’s Gap 1, a large rock shelter in Windjana Gorge National Park in the Kimberley region of West Australia.
The new studies of the fragment have revealed that it comes from an axe made of basalt that had been shaped and polished by grinding it against a softer rock like sandstone and was used to shape spears head and for chopping down trees.
Professor Peter Hiscock, Professor of Australian Archaeology at the University of Sydney, said: “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.
“The question of when axes were invented 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.”
But Professor Hiscock then goes on to say that although humans spread across Australia, axe technology did not spread with them since the axes were only made in the tropical north.
He said: “These differences between northern Australia, where axes were always used, and southern Australia, where they were not, originated around the time of colonisation and persisted until the last few thousand years when axes began to be made in most southern parts of mainland Australia.”