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Archaeologists Discover World’s Oldest Axe

November 5, 2010

An international team of archaeologists, led by Bruno David of Australia’s Monash University, have uncovered a 35,500 year-old stone axe–the oldest tool of its kind ever discovered.

The shard of stone–which the researchers report has a series of marks on it that provide evidence that it was, in fact, a ground-edge axe–was discovered at a sacred Aboriginal site in Arnhem Land back in May. Previously, researchers believed that ground-edge axes only dated back between 20,000 and 30,000 years, and according to David, most believed that the tool originated in Europe.

“What we’ve got in Australia, however, is evidence of ground-edge axes going back 35,000 years ago,” David told reporters from the AFP news agency on Friday. “What this all means is that we know that 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.”

The Monash University archaeologist also told ABC News in Australia that the find could well show that the Jawoyn people–a group of Indigenous Australians living in the country’s Northern Territory–could well be the first people to grind an axe in order to sharpen its edges.

“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,” he told ABC News reporter Emma Masters, adding that the discovery illustrated a key step forward in human evolution because “it means that you’re creating a tool that is far more efficient than what you had before, and that you also have to create a tool not just through a simple series of actions of hitting against it.”

According to Masters, the site in which the two week dig occurred is known as Gabarnmung, which in the Jawoyn language means “hole in the rock.” She reports that the area was discovered three years ago, and representatives of the people invited David and his team to the site in order to discover more about their history and heritage.

“We’ve been told by our elders and our ancestors that we’ve been in the area for a very long time and now the scientific research come back and now it’s saying the same thing we’ve been saying all along,” Jawoyn Association spokesman Preston Lee told Masters. “Everybody is very proud of our heritage and it just goes to show we’re out there, we are Jawoyn people, we are proud to be Jawoyn.”

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