|17 November 2010
World's oldest axe found in Australia
Archaeologists revealed they have found a piece of a stone axe dated as 35,500 years old on sacred Aboriginal land in Australia, the oldest object of its type ever found. The shard of stone, unearthed from a sandstone cave in a remote part of south-west Arnhem Lan, has marks that prove it comes from a ground-edge stone axe, Monash University's Bruno David said. The discovery is prompting scientists to reconsider exactly when the technique of grinding to make tools sharp entered the Stone Age.
"We could see with the angled light that the rock itself has all these marks on it from people having rubbed it in order to create the ground-edge axe," Mr David said. "The person who was using the axe was grinding it against a sandstone surface in order to make it a smoother surface."
The discovery is significant as it predates by at least 5000 years the oldest known examples of other ground-edge implements from Japan and Australia, which have been dated at 22,000 to 30,000 years old. By comparison, the earliest ground-edge axes from Europe, West Asia and Africa are about 8,500 years old. "The conventional story that comes from Europe does not explain the origin of axes globally. So we've got to think of it in a very different way," David said. It looks that the dating results of the axe found in a rock shelter in Jawoyn country are unanimous: "We've got two dates from charcoal taken from above where the axe was found and two from below and they match exactly," David specified.
The fact that the axe piece is made from volcanic rock is also significant, as the area where it was found is sandstone. The nearest source of basalt is 40 kilometres away, which suggests the axe was traded and would have been highly valued.
Archaeologist Adam Brumm from the University of Wollongong said the discovery was evidence of an ingenious technological solution devised by the first Australians. "Aboriginal material culture was regarded by early European observers as the most primitive technology on earth," he said. "Yet at the same time that early European hunters were using stone arrowheads to bring down large and dangerous Ice Age animals, the ancestors of modern-day Aboriginal people employed an equally if not more sophisticated type of stone tool in order to gain access to vital foods."
The piece of stone was found in a remote patch of the Northern Territory amid traditional Aboriginal rock art paintings believed to date back thousands of years. "It's a very remote location, it's quite a spectacular site that is covered in rock art," David said, adding that the cave where the stone was found was well protected from the elements. Jawoyn Aboriginal people, who had invited the archaeologists to their land to examine the site, said the find was a meaningful connection to their ancestors.
Edited from Physorg, Discovery News (5 November 2010), The Age (6 November 2010)
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