The University of Western Australia’s Associate Professor Jane Balme is part of an Australian archaeology team involved in the discovery of the world’s oldest-known edge-ground hafted axe from the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
Associate Professor Balme, Professor Sue O’Connor from The Australian National University and Professor Peter Hiscock from the University of Sydney, have today published an article in in the journal Australian Archaeology which dates the axe between 46,000 and 49,000 years, which was around the time people first arrived on the continent.
Lead archaeologist Professor Sue O’Connor, from ANU’s School of Culture, History and Language, said it was the earliest evidence of hafted axes in the world. A hafted axe is an axe with a handle attached.
“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 axe fragment was initially excavated in 1991 by Professor O’Connor at Carpenter’s Gap 1, a large rock shelter in Windjana Gorge National Park in the Kimberley.
Professor Hiscock analysed the axe fragment and found that it came from an axe made of basalt that had been shaped and polished by grinding it against a softer rock such as sandstone.
“We don’t really know exactly what this kind of axe would have been used for but we can speculate that were used to chop wood perhaps or to obtain honeybag from trees,” Dr Balme said.
“What is clear from this object and from fragments of similar axes recovered from deep in deposits elsewhere in northern Australia, is that edge-ground, hafted axes were an important technology for the first people settling in this continent.”
Associate Professor Balme, from UWA’s Centre for Rock Art Research and Management and Professor O’Connor carried out the research as part of their Kimberley-based project “Life Ways of the First Australians” after receiving a Federal Government Australian Research Council Linkage grant.