Archaeologists find world’s oldest axe in Western Australia

Fragments of the world’s oldest edge-ground hafted axe (an axe with a handle attached) have been found in Kimberley, Western Australia by an archaeology team led by Professor Jane Balme from The Australian Nation University.

Professor Balme and Professor Sue O’Connor from The Australia Nation University, together with  Professor Peter Hiscock from the University of Sydney, have published an article in the Journal of Australian Archaeology which date the axe fragments between 46,000 and 49,000 years old, which is around the time people first arrived on the continent.

Stuart Hay/ANU
A hafted axe similar to the one the unearthed flakes were from. Photo: Stuart Hay/ANU

“Nowhere else in the world do you get axes at this date,” Professor O’Connor said. “In Japan such axes appear about 35,000 years ago. But in most countries in the world they arrived with agriculture after 10,000 years ago.”

The team is unsure exactly what the axe was used for, but do know that this type of axe was used “to chop wood” and, perhaps, “to obtain honeybag from trees,” Dr Balme said.

The axe fragments, initially excavated in 1991, was analysed by Professor Hiscock and been found to be from an axe made of basalt that had been shaped and polished by grinding it against softer rocks.

The study comes after a grant was issued from Australia’s Federal Government Australian Research Council as part of the “Life Ways of the First Australians” programme.


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