World's oldest known hafted axe fragment found in Western Australia

Friday, May 13, 2016

On Wednesday Australian archaeologists published an analysis of a previously discovered axe fragment which indicates it is up to 49,000 years old.

The axe fragment was originally discovered in Western Australia's Kimberley region in 1991 by Professor Sue O'Connor of the Australian National University but was only recently examined. The recent analysis and dating published in journal Australian Archaeology indicates the fragment came from the head of a hafted axe 46,000 to 49,000 years old. This is currently the world's oldest known hafted axe fragment.

According to coauthor Professor O'Connor, this predates all other known evidence of axe hafting, as in Japan where evidence of hafted axes around 35,000 years old has been found. Professor O'Connor said, "Nowhere else in the world do you get axes at this date [...] in most countries in the world they arrived with agriculture after 10,000 years ago."

Analysis by coauthor Professor Peter Hiscock of the University of Sydney showed the axe-head was made of basalt, a hard volcanic rock. Axe-heads like this one would have been ground against a softer rock to shape and polish them. This recent discovery indicates the early inhabitants of Australia developed and used complex tools soon after they arrived in Australia 50,000 to 55,000 years ago.