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15 October 2006
Ancient stone axe found in Australia

An astonishing artefact of Stone Age has been discovered less than 100 kilometres from Sydney. A team of archaeologists and bushwalkers on an expedition in the Wollemi National Park discovered an almost-complete hafted stone axe, hidden on a ledge at the back of a rock shelter. It is thought to be the first time that such an item has been found in place anywhere in the Sydney region and possibly in south-eastern Australia.
     What makes the find of the axe - by Sydney bushwalker Peter Butler - so remarkable is that the implement's wooden handle was also in the same rock shelter. As best as the team's archaeologists can tell, the handle broke possibly a century and a half ago or more, and was discarded by its owner. But the precious stone head, which would have required considerable time and skill to make, was carefully stored. It was hidden about a metre from the broken handle, perhaps so it could be retrieved later. It appears the shelter has not been disturbed since. Both the timber and the rock have the remains of the resin and bindings that held it together.
     The leader of the party that found the axe, Matthew Kelleher, says it is the kind of discovery he dreamed about when he was a child and decided to study archaeology. "Finding something like this near the most heavily populated metropolitan area in Australia is extremely, extremely rare," Dr Kelleher said. The sites officer with the Darkinjung Land Council, Dave Pross, said he would argue for the axe and handle to be brought out of the Wollemi for protection.
     During the expedition the same team also identified about 50 previously unknown archaeological sites in the 500,000-hectare wilderness. The most significant was a rock platform covered in engravings. Containing at least 40 figures, it is in some ways a more amazing find than the axe, because it is the largest engraving site of its kind in the Greater Blue Mountains, and yet its existence was unknown to science.
     There appear to be 25 engravings that are large and distinct: anthropomorphised eagle figures, life-sized men and women, large ancestral beings, and other engravings resembling koala people. It is likely, considering the care that went into laying out the engravings and the level of detail, that the rock art site was a highly significant spot to Aboriginal people. The discoveries are further evidence the Wollemi was not always a wilderness without people. The executive director of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute, John Merson, said it "may be one of the richest areas of rock art in the country".

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, ABC (14 October 2006)

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