16 Incredible Facts About Ancient Australia

The ancient ax fragment found at Carpenter’s Gap under a microscopic focus. Stuart Hay/SWNS.

10. The world’s oldest ax was discovered in Australia, dating from almost 50,000 years ago, at a time when “nowhere else in the world do you get axes”

Originally excavated in the 1990s from a remote rock shelter known as Carpenter’s Gap, believed to be one of the earliest sites of human occupation in Australia and located in the Kimberley region of modern-day Western Australia, a small rock fragment roughly the size of a thumbnail was discarded by archeologists at the time and dismissed as unimportant; in 2014, further analysis using modern methods identified the tiny fragment as part of the world’s oldest known ax, believed to have been made between 45,000 and 49,000 years ago and dating back to close to the arrival of early humans to the Australian continent. Constructed from carefully shaped basalt and polished by grinding the ax upon another rock until smoothed, the ax was even re-sharpened at a later date at which point the fragment most likely separated from the weapon.

Not merely an ancient artifact of curiosity, the discovery indicates that stone axes were actually created by humans at least 10,000 years earlier than previously thought by archeologists. In fact, the find indicates that the early inhabitants of ancient Australia might have even been far more technologically advanced than the rest of humanity at this time, with Japan – the earliest known civilization to also use axes – only developing them from around 35,000 years ago; in the rest of the world, such technology typically appeared after the introduction of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago. With no known axes in South-East Asia during the Ice Age, the new arrivals to Australia were clearly immensely innovative and experimented with new means to survive in their unfamiliar environment; adapting to the new continent, the Aboriginal people invented tools that would not be used for thousands of years by other humans. Interestingly, it appears such axes were only developed in the tropical north of Australia, indicating either an abandonment of the revolutionary technology by humans as they expanded south into desert and woodlands or a multi-wave migratory settlement of Australia.