An international team of archaeologists working in the Qurh Plain of northwest Saudi Arabia has unearthed a colossal hand axe estimated to be over 200,000 years old. The find is made of fine-grained basalt and measures an impressive 51.3 cm (20 inches) in length.
Project director Ömer Aksoy, associated with TEOS Heritage, a Turkish archaeological consultancy firm, expressed the significance of the discovery, said in a press release, “This hand axe is one of the most important finds from our ongoing survey of the Qurh Plain. An ongoing search for comparisons from across the world has not come up with a hand axe of equal size. As such, this may well be one of the largest hand axes ever discovered.”
Situated south of AlUla, an ancient oasis city with rich historical significance, the Qurh Plain has been the focus of extensive archaeological surveys. AlUla itself boasts UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the renowned city of Hegra, a Nabatean settlement, and the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia.
The hand axe, discovered in a desert landscape, is believed to have originated from the Lower-Middle Paleolithic period. The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) oversees the archaeological initiatives in the region and views these discoveries as integral to its comprehensive development plan. The commission aims to position AlUla as a global destination for natural and cultural heritage.
Beyond its monumental size, the hand axe’s material, fine-grained basalt, adds to its uniqueness. The ongoing survey in the Qurh Plain has also revealed more than a dozen smaller Paleolithic hand axes.
The Qurh site, located in proximity to the village of Mugheira, not only bears historical importance dating back to the early Islamic periods but also hides a wealth of enigmatic secrets and treasures. The archaeological site encompasses a vast area, with open trenches from previous campaigns and various architectural elements, showcasing the region’s layered history.
These discoveries are part of an extensive archaeological research program led by RCU. The region, often associated with its Nabatean history, reveals evidence of human occupation dating back around 200,000 years.
The hand axe’s function remains a subject of ongoing study, with experts examining use marks to determine its intended purpose. The discovery aligns with the larger goal of understanding how ancient settlers in the Arabian Peninsula lived and survived.
These findings are part of a broader initiative, with AlUla hosting one of the world’s largest concentrations of archaeological research and conservation. The fall 2023 season alone involves over 200 archaeologists from various countries, reflecting the global significance of the ongoing research in this historically rich region.