Stone Age Rewritten: Earliest Aboriginals Used Tools for Woodwork!

Scientists have discovered that Japanese and Indigenous Australians were using polished stone axes for tree felling at least 30,000 to 38,000 years ago

Mon 19 Feb 24


Scientists have uncovered evidence that polished stone axes were used by homo sapiens up to 60,000 years ago for “full-scale tree felling”, with further research needed to determine their use in creating “complex wooden instruments” used for land cultivation, Stone Age construction, firewood preparation and cultural rituals.

That is according to a new study just published by the Tokyo Metropolitan University, which found evidence of the tools used across multiple archeological sites in Australia and Japan, dating the tools to the Marine Isotope Stage 3 period of the Paleolithic age (60,000 – 30,000 years ago), far earlier than the Neolithic age (12,000 to 6,000 years ago).

It comes as Wood Central reported that the first example of a timber structure was found in Zambia, Southern Africa, last year, dated back more than 476,000 years and used by the now-extinct Homo heidelbergensis.

Led by Assistant Professor Akira Iwase, archaeologists created and tested replica Stone Age tools for various tasks and unveiled how different activities leave distinct traces on tool edges

This research, according to Assistant Professor Iwase, “enhances our understanding of ancient tools and paves the way for identifying the advent of timber utilisation among early humans.”

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Japanese scientists revealed several polished stone axe remains, demonstrating how homo sampans during the Paleolithic age (otherwise known as the Early Stone Age). (Photo Credit: Tokyo Metropolitan University, as published in the Journal of Archaeological Science)

It examined the macroscopic and microscopic traces left on stone tools, which serve as silent witnesses to the tools’ historical usage. They then distinguish between Stone Age tools used for specific activities, such as complex woodworking and those employed for other tasks.

The revelations can potentially transform archeologists’ understanding of Stone Age humanity and their adaptability to create tools for different environments.

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Researchers used replicas of polished stone tools to demonstrate tree-felling. (Photo Credit: Tokyo Metropolitan University, as published in the Journal of Archaeological Science)

Nonetheless, they “do not explain whether the tools were used on wood or other materials such as antler or bone or for disarticulation,” with Associate Professor Iwase now calling for further research to build on “reliable cues for detecting wood-percussive tools from archaeological assemblages.”

Why Stone Tools matter to human evolution

Stone Age tools are the earliest known use of technology by humans and their ancestors. These tools, which span from 3.3 million years ago to about 2,000 BCE, include the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age), and Neolithic (New Stone Age) periods.

Each of these periods reflects significant advancements in tool-making techniques and their applications.

Stone tools reveal a critical transition in the lives of our early human ancestors – footage courtesy of @biointeractive.

During the Paleolithic era, humans used simple stone tools – including flakes, chipped off from larger stones to create sharp edges for cutting, and core tools, including hand axes, served as multi-purpose tools for chopping, scraping, and butchering.

The impact of polishing and ground-edge tools

As humans progressed into the Mesolithic era, tool-making techniques became more refined. They developed microliths, small stone tools often attached to wooden shafts to create more complex tools like sickles and arrows. This period also saw an increase in the specialisation of tools, reflecting a more sedentary lifestyle and advances in agriculture.

The Neolithic era brought about the most significant changes in stone tool technology. During this time, humans began to polish stone tools, making them sharper and more durable. They also developed ground-edge tools, such as axes, essential for clearing forests for agriculture and settlement.


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