World's Oldest Ground-Edge Stone Axe Found in Australia

The discovery pushes back the technological advance to between 45,000 to 49,000 years ago.

<p>Australian National University</p>

Work by the team of researchers showed the fragment came from an axe that had been shaped out of basalt then polished by grinding it on a softer rock such as sandstone until it was very smooth.

Professor Hiscock said experimental work confirmed the smoothness of the basalt fragment could not have been achieved accidentally through natural processes.

He took basalt from the same area as where the artefact was found and rubbed it on sandstone.

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"It took 800 double strokes to get the same smoothness [as the axe fragment]," he said.

"It's not the kind of thing that happens accidentally."

Professor O'Connor said the discovery showed early Aboriginal technology was not as simple as has been previously suggested.

"Australian stone artefacts have often been characterised as being simple. But clearly that's not the case when you have these hafted axes earlier in Australia than anywhere else in the world," she said.

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Professor Hiscock said the find cast doubt on prevailing views around the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa.

He said it was believed that as modern humans dispersed "they maintained and employed a cultural system from Africa and used it everywhere".

"In evolutionary terms it is hard to imagine how one way of doing things works in every environment," he said.

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Professor Hiscock said the Australian find supported the idea that modern humans employed "ingenuity and flexibility" as they dispersed.

"The moment people set foot on Australia we now have them adapting to survive," he said.

But, he said, the technology did not spread across Australia with humans as the earliest axes in the southern two-thirds of Australia date to about 3,000 years ago.

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This suggested either two different colonising groups or that the technology was abandoned as people spread into desert and sub-tropical woodlands.

Professor Hiscock said these early innovations helped create cultural differences between groups.

"[The axe] is perhaps a material signal of cultural variations in the ancestors of Aboriginal people," he said.

The research appears in the journal Australian Archaeology.

Article first appeared on ABC Science Online.

The fragments came from a ground-edge axe with a handle similar to these pictured.

Two 17,000-year-old skeletons have been brought to life in silicone models of the prehistoric humans at a new exhibit in Bordeaux, France. Artist Elisabeth Daynès created "Chancelade Man" and the "Woman of the Pataud Shelter" based on remains found in France's Dordogne region.

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Daynès, a former prosthetic makeup artist turned sculptor and paleo-artist, spent seven years studying and creating models of the prehistoric humans. She describes her work saying, "I sculpt hypotheses."

The skeleton of the the approximately 60-year-old, blue-eyed "Chancelade Man" stands 6'2" tall. Chancelade Man's remains were discovered in 1888 in a rock shelter at Chancelade, southwestern France.

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The 17,000-year-old skeleton was found below the floor of a shelter in a curled posture -- a position that paleontologists say suggests he had been buried.

Daynès' likenesses are obtained by the computer modelling of multiple data points across the skull. Daynès then creates a silicone reconstruction of what the person could have looked like.

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Also, in the exhibit is Daynès' interpretation of a female prehistoric human based on the skeleton of a woman's remains also found in the Dordogne region.

The silicone model shows a woman, who is thought to have died aged 20 with brown eyes and a round face. "The most important aspect of my sculptures, is the look in the eyes," says Daynès. The

exhibition, called "Chairs de Origines,"

or "The Origins of Flesh" will be on display at a gallery in Bordeaux until December 5.