Ancient Stone Weapons, Including One of a Kind Giant Hand Axe, Could Tell Story of When Early Humans First Left Africa

Dabsa haxe crop
The first giant hand axe ever discovered in the Arabian Peninsula. Archaeologists in Saudi Arabia have discovered a massive cache of stone artifacts, some of them more than 1.7 million years old. DISPERSE project

Archaeologists in Saudi Arabia have discovered a massive cache of stone artifacts, some of them more than 1.7 million years old. They might reveal when different species of early hominins first migrated out of Africa, according to Live Science.

The researchers are part of the DISPERSE project, which studies the diaspora of early humans across Africa and Asia. The artifacts, more than 1,000 of them, were found in a basin of porous rock bordered by volcanic lava flows, just a few miles from the coastline of the Red Sea, according to an update from the DISPERSE project's website.

They include fragments of weapons like hand axes, knives and spearpoints, along with tools like animal hide scrapers, hide piercers and hammer stones. Live Science reported that one hand axe weighs nearly 8 pounds, making it notably heavier than the rest. It's the first of its kind discovered in the Arabian Peninsula, according to DISPERSE. A paper on the discovery was published in the scientific journal Antiquity.

"The site and its associated artifacts provide important new evidence for hominin dispersals out of Africa, and give further insight into the giant hand axe phenomenon present within the Acheulean stone tool industry," the authors wrote in their paper.

Acheulean artifacts date to anywhere between 1.76 million years and 100,000 years old. The researchers know that the climate during the time the tools were in use was wetter than the climate is now but hope further research will reveal a more specific timeline.

"It's far more arid [today] than it was at certain points in time," lead author Frederick Foulds, an archaeology professor at Durham University in England, told Live Science. "It's strange to be walking over hard, dry rocks which were formed by water pooling during a far wetter period. We think it was during these wetter periods that it's likely the site was occupied."

Giant handaxe from the Namib desert. This one's 33cm long! Couldn't hold it to photo... #flintfriday #namibia

— Rachel Bynoe (@rachelbynoe) August 21, 2015

Foulds told Live Science that with additional analysis to narrow the date range in which the tools were created, they hope to be able to extrapolate the exact species of hominin to which the artifacts belonged.

"During periods when the ice sheets were at their largest, there was widespread aridity in the Sahara and Arabian deserts, but during periods when the ice sheets shrank, the climate of these regions became a lot wetter," Foulds told Live Science. "What's interesting about the Wadi Dabsa region is that the geography of the region may have created a refuge from these changes."