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Oldest known stone axe found in Arnhem Land
A piece of stone axe found in the Northern Territory has been dated at 35,500 years old, making it the oldest of its type in the world.

The piece has a series of marks which archaeologists say proves it comes from a ground-edge stone axe.

Monash University's Bruno David led the international archaeological team, which made the find during an excavation in Arnhem Land in May.

Dr David says the find shows the Jawoyn people were the first to grind axes to sharpen its edges.

"We could see with the angled light that the rock itself has all these marks on it from people having rubbed it in order to create the ground-edge axe," he said.

"We already knew that the oldest evidence of axes in the world were in the late 20s of thousands of years ago.

"Very soon after that we received a carbon result of 35,500 years ago for that piece."

Dr David says it is an important step in the evolution of modern humans.

"It means that you're creating a tool that is far more efficient than what you had before, and that you also have to create a tool not just through a simple series of actions of hitting against it," he said.

The two-week dig was held at a spectacular rock art gallery on the traditional lands of the Jawoyn people.
Lost ancestors

The Jawoyn call it Gabarnmung, which means "hole in the rock", and it is covered in spectacular paintings.

The site was rediscovered three years ago and is one of thousands that have been found across Jawoyn country in recent years.

Jawoyn traditional owner Margaret Katherine invited the archaeologists to the site so she could find out more about her lost ancestors.

"They study about rocks and bone and everything and I wanted to know the truth," she said.

"Now that I know the truth I am very happy deep inside."

Jawoyn Association spokesman Preston Lee says it is a find that means a lot to the Jawoyn people.

"We've been told by our elders and our ancestors that we've been in the area for a very long time and now the scientific research come back and now it's saying the same thing we've been saying all along," he said.

"Pride is the best word to say. Everybody is very proud of our heritage and it just goes to show we're out there, we are Jawoyn people, we are proud to be Jawoyn."
Historic partnership

To find out about the discoveries from the excavation, a Jawoyn delegation spent a week at Monash University in Melbourne.

During the visit, the Jawoyn also signed a landmark agreement with the university which allows the archaeologists to continue their research at rock painting and other cultural sites.

Monash University's deputy vice-chancellor, Adam Showmaker, says it is a partnership where real things will happen.

"This is something very much about the future," he said.

"The document talks about respect, talks about collaboration. It talks about doing things together, it talks about training.

"All of that is something which we really believe in."

Dr David says he is excited to be able to continue the important research at Gabarnmung as well as at other sites in the area.

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