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This Mysterious 46,000 Year Old Object Is the World's Oldest Axe

Image: A reconstructed example of the hafted axe / STUART HAY, ANU
Image: A reconstructed example of the hafted axe / STUART HAY, ANU

The world’s oldest axe—dating back at least 46,000 years—has been uncovered in Australia. And, already, there’s a mystery surrounding it.


The axe—by this time reduced to mere flakes, which you can see below—was originally found in a dig during the ’90s. But researchers from Australian National University only recently managed to identify and date the object, the results of which they published in Australian Archaeology. It’s the first instance ever found of an axe with a handle attached. The next one doesn’t show up in the archaeological record for over another 10,000 years.

Image: Newly uncovered axe fragments / ANU
Image: Newly uncovered axe fragments / ANU

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.

Still, as of now, the axe’s purpose remains unknown. Whatever that purpose was, it must have been a rather limited one. Although axes may have originated with this early example, archaeologists were unable to find any evidence that later examples of the technology had spread from this earliest finding.

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Tomorrow’s Gizmodo Followup Headline,

“Very Old Axe Found by Archaeologists is Actually Just a Random Rock”

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