46,000 year-old axe found in Australia

May 11, 2016, 8:22 PM EDT
Axe. (Source: louri Goussev/flickr)
Axe. (Source: louri Goussev/flickr)
An axe discovered in the 1990’s has finally been identified and carbon-dated. The object is thought to be at least 46,000 years old, and was found in Australia by archeologists from Australian National University. The next record of an axe with a handle attached occurs 10,000 years after this finding. The Christian Science Monitor quotes the lead archaeologist:
"Nowhere else in the world do you get axes at this date," lead archaeologist Sue O’Connor, of The Australian National University, said. "In Japan such axes appear about 35,000 years ago. But in most countries in the world they arrive with agriculture after 10,000 years ago."
The period in question puts the axe in Australia shortly after people are first thought to have arrived, about 50,000 years ago.
The real question, though, is what was this early axe used for? The vast majority of very old axes found by archaeologists are eventually pinned down as agricultural tools. This axe, however, predates the widespread advent of agriculture by about 30,000 years. Archaeologists have already posited a few possible explanations, including the rather meta-explanation of it being for the purpose of making smaller blades, or perhaps as an early tool to take down trees.
O’Connor and her colleagues found the axe chip in a rocky outcropping known as Carpenter’s Gap, a site of the first human settlements in Australia. To determine how old the flake was, the researchers carbon-dated a charcoal fragment found next to the chip, giving an age window of about 44,000 to 49,000 years.