Ancient Tools Found in Australia

Tanalee Smith in Sydney
Associated Press
April 8, 2008

Tools dating back at least 35,000 years have been unearthed in a rock shelter in Australia's remote northwest, making it one of the oldest finds in that part of the country, archaeologists said Monday.

The tools include a piece of flint the size of a small cell phone and hundreds of tiny sharp stones that were used as knives. One local Aboriginal elder saw it as vindication of what his people have said all along—that they have inhabited this land for tens of thousands of years.

"I'm ecstatic, I'm over the moon, because it's now indisputable," Slim Parker, an elder of the Martidja Banyjima people, told The Associated Press by telephone from Western Australia.

The tools, along with seeds, bark and other plant material, were found nearly 6.5 feet (about 2 meters) beneath the floor of a shelter—a slight crevice in the hillside protected by an overhang of rock—on the edges of an iron-ore mine site about 590 miles (950 kilometers) northeast of Perth, the capital of Western Australia.

"This area of land, in regard to our culture and customs and beliefs, is of great significance to us," Parker said.

"We have songs and stories relating to that area as a sustaining resource that has provided for and cared for our people for thousands of years."

(Related: "20,000-Year-Old Human Footprints Found in Australia" [August 3, 2006].)

"Beautifully Made" Artifacts

The excavation was carried out between October and February by archaeologists from Australian Cultural Heritage Management, who were hired by the local Aborigines to find and preserve heritage sites within the mine area run by resource giant Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto, which had been expanding its Hope Downs mine, halted all work when the rock shelter was discovered, company spokesperson Gervase Greene said.

The company will amend its expansion plans to preserve the shelter, Greene said.

Archaeologist Neale Draper said the tools included at least one "beautifully made" piece of flint from which sharp knifelike shards were knocked off, hundreds of tiny knives, and pieces of grindstones. He hopes that testing of the knives will reveal residue that could indicate what the ancient people ate.

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