A group of researchers in AlUla (Al-‘Ula), northwest Saudi Arabia, has uncovered what is likely the most massive stone ‘hand axe’ artefact in the world. Initial assessments indicate that this enormous artefact dates back over 200,000 years to the Lower-Middle Palaeolithic period.
The international team of archaeologists, collaborating with The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) and led by Dr Ömer ‘Can’ Aksoy and Dr Gizem Kahraman Aksoy of TEOS Heritage, made this remarkable discovery while surveying the Qurh Plain, a desert landscape south of AlUla, in search of ancient human activity evidence.
The find promises to open a new chapter in human history in Arabia and beyond, as it sheds light on the vibrant community that once inhabited this challenging desert landscape during the early Islamic period. The hand axe, crafted from fine-grained basalt, measures 51.3cm long and exhibits artistry on both sides, resulting in a sturdy tool with functional cutting or chopping edges. Although its specific use remains unclear, the tool is designed to fit comfortably in both hands.
The survey is still ongoing, and it has uncovered more than a dozen similar, though somewhat smaller, Palaeolithic hand axes. Further scientific research will reveal more details about the origins and function of these objects and the people who made them hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Dr Ömer Aksoy, Project Director, stated that this hand axe is one of the most important finds from the ongoing survey of the Qurh Plain. This remarkable stone tool measures over half a meter long (length: 51.3 cm, width: 9.5 cm, thickness: 5.7 cm) and is the most significant example of a series of stone tools discovered on the site. The ongoing search for comparisons worldwide has not found a hand axe of equal size, making this potentially one of the largest hand axes ever discovered.
In addition to the Qurh Plain Survey, RCU oversees 11 other archaeological specialist projects conducting fieldwork in AlUla and nearby Khaybar. This ambitious research program aims to unlock the mysteries of antiquity in this region. This extraordinary discovery highlights how much there is still to learn about the human history of Saudi Arabia.
Archaeology is a vital element in RCU’s comprehensive regeneration of AlUla County as a leading global destination for cultural and natural heritage.
The 12 archaeological missions underway during the fall 2023 season, from October to December, constitute one of the world’s largest concentrations of archaeological research and conservation. The work will continue with additional missions planned in the winter and spring 2024.
The fall 2023 season boasts a remarkable international gathering of more than 200 archaeologists and related cultural heritage specialists, representing experts from countries including Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, and the UK. Many of the projects are a continuation of ongoing research, which has involved the training and mentoring more than 100 archaeology students from Saudi Arabia.
In September, the inaugural AlUla World Archaeology Summit showcased AlUla’s position as a hub of archaeological activity. The summit attracted more than 300 delegates from 39 countries and generated interdisciplinary conversations to connect archaeology to wider communities.