Five rare “non-returning” boomerangs found in a dry riverbed in South Australia were probably used by Aborigines hundreds of years ago to hunt waterfowl, according to a new study.
A new analysis of the works – another part of the Boomerang and four full – Aboriginal Australians hunting them, digging, and possibly even various purposes such as ceremonies for fire and hand-to-hand combat that they use in shows.
Radiocarbon dating has revealed that the Aborigines made boomerangs from wood dec 1650 and 1830, before the first Europeans explored the area. According to the study’s lead researcher Amy Roberts, an archaeologist and anthropologist at Flinders University in Adelaide, the artifacts provide a rare insight into what life was like for the Indigenous inhabitants of the southern continent.
“Even before we got the dates, we could see that it was made with stone tools instead of the metal tools used after the European invasion,” he told . “You can see this in the sharpness of the cuts – we can see the nature of the shaping of the wood in some microscope images.”
Because Aboriginal boomerangs are made of wood, they decompose quickly when exposed to air. This is the sixth time that any of them have been found in an archaeological context. “It’s especially rare for several of them to be found this way at the same time,” Roberts said.
The boomerangs were found largely because of a drought. The gullies of the Cooper Creek river system are usually filled with water, but in late 2017 and early 2018 the river dried up in an especially hot summer, exposing the riverbed and the boomerangs that were partially buried there.
The first was spotted by a woman from the Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka traditional land owners group, who was clearing garbage from the dry riverbed. The three other boomerangs and the fragment were found within a few weeks, all within a few miles of each other.
Roberts said it was possible the Aborigines had dumped the boomerangs elsewhere and then the waters washed the tools into the river system. But a better explanation may be that the Aborigines threw boomerangs into nets over the river to scare off waterfowl, an activity described in oral traditions.
“We got the idea by looking at traditional stories about people losing boomerangs on the water and looking for them, so that was a possibility,” he said.
The largest of the newly found boomerangs would have been about 40 inches (1 meter) long when completed, and was probably too heavy to be used as a projectile. “Therefore, it is likely that the actual use of this artifact was in hand-to-hand combat,” the researchers wrote in a study published Nov. 3 in the journal Australian Archaeology.