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Stone axe oldest in the world

Steve Heggie (Healthy Landscape Manager)
Published 20 Jun 2016 by Steve Heggie (Healthy Landscape Manager)

Forty nine thousand years is old by anyone’s measure. The Bunuba people were proudly in the national spotlight recently when the Australian National University published its carbon dating of a fragment of polished stone axe unearthed on Bunuba country.

The discovery dates the use of stone axe technology in The Kimberly region to between 45,000 and 49,000 years ago – coinciding with the arrival of people in Australia.

The fragment is 10,000 years older than stone axe fragments discovered in the Kimberly in 2010, which were at that time the oldest known.

The axe fragment was discovered in the 1990s at a Bunuba occupation site near Windjanna Gorge during an archaeological dig led by Professor Sue O'Connor of the Australian National University School of Culture, History and Language.

It's officially the oldest stone tool in the world.

Professor O’Conner says that the world's oldest known examples of hafted axes all come from Australia. "In Japan such axes [also] appear about 35,000 years ago. But in most countries in the world they arrive with agriculture after 10,000 years ago".

Professor Peter Hiscock of the University of Sydney helped verify the find. The fragment was found in a layer of sediment containing charcoal that was radiocarbon dated to an age of between 48,875 and 43,941 years. Professor Hiscock says that the find supports the idea that modern humans employed "ingenuity and flexibility" as they dispersed across the world.

The Bunuba cultural occupation site where this remarkable discovery was made is within the recently declared Bunuba #2 exclusive native title area, outside of the Windjanna National Park.

Bush Heritage is supporting the cultural and physical conservation of this site through our Bunuba partnership.

We're collaborating with the Bunuba people to develop the Jalangurru Muwayi Healthy Country Plan and are providing the Bunuba Dawangarri Aboriginal Corporation with governance support to help ensure the Bunuba people can manage their cultural heritage and lands in perpetuity.

The stone axe fragment found at the dig. The stone axe fragment found at the dig.
The dig site. The dig site.
Grinding grooves at the dig site. Grinding grooves at the dig site.
Bunuba Rangers and scientific staff. Bunuba Rangers and scientific staff.
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