Cooper Creek’s Boomerang Study Finds A Multitude of Uses
Not all boomerangs come back. In fact, recent discoveries show that almost four centuries ago in South Australia the one-way version of the flying hunting stick was used for hunting, fighting, digging, and fire management.
Traditionally, boomerangs are found by archaeologists throughout Queensland. The term ‘bou-mar-rang’ was first documented in 1822 AD from the Dharuk language of the Turuwal people who settled along George’s River near Port Jackson, New South Wales. While pop cultural depictions generally only show the ‘flying boomerang,’ most Aboriginal hunting and warring used non-returning varieties for throwing and clubbing.
Rare boomerang collection from Cooper Creek (Kinipapa) near Innamincka in Australia. ( Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka Traditional Land Owners Aboriginal Corporation )
Boomerangs Were Tribal Center Pieces
A team of university researchers recently published their new analysis of non-returning boomerangs. It was revealed that in South Australia boomerangs were used before the arrival of Europeans not only for hunting, but for many tribal activities.
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Between 2017 and 2018 a collection of four non-returnable boomerangs and one wooden fragment were discovered in Kinipapa (Cooper) Creek, near the town of Innamincka in South Australia’s far north-east. Boomerangs were used in Australia over 10,000 years ago, but this collection radiocarbon dated to around 380 years old.
One boomerang can be seen in a dry section of the main channel of the Cooper Creek bed. ( Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka Traditional Land Owners Aboriginal Corporation )
The new study of this Cooper Creek collection was led by Flinders University in South Australia and the full results were published in Australian Archaeology . One of the study authors, Dr. Daryl Wesley at Flinders University, explained that traditional boomerangs have two wings which spin around a center of gravity. However, non-returnable boomerangs are generally larger and heavier than their returning cousins.
Multi-Dimensional Problem Solving
Radiocarbon dating determined that the boomerangs were made between 1650 and 1830 AD. The researchers wrote that they conducted what is known as a ‘morphological analysis’ of the surfaces of the boomerangs. Essentially, this is a scientific term for what you and I would call problem-solving, but it allows for the exploration of ‘all’ possible solutions to multi-dimensional and non-quantified problems. Thus, the results of addressing problems are comprehensive while us lot work out solutions with the data we have to hand and are aware of.
Professor Amy Roberts of Flinders University told MailOnline that to understand how non-returnable boomerangs were manufactured and used, the team of researchers compared them to ‘known examples from ethnographic evidence and traditional owner knowledge.’ When all this was pulled together the analysis charted signs of ‘cracking, charring or burning.’ It is thought that these marks were most likely gained from ‘stoking fires.’
One of the boomerangs. Microscope images showing scrape marks (red box and bottom left) and impact crack (blue box and bottom right). (Roberts, A. et al. 2021/ Australian Archaeology )
The 10,000-Year-Old Legacy of Boomerangs
The youngest boomerang in the collection was dated to the year 1830 AD. This is just before the first Europeans penetrated into this region of Australia. Explorer Charles Sturt got here in the 1820s and Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills led their famous and ill-fated expedition in 1860. According to ABC.AU News , having started in Melbourne Burke and Wills successfully reached the Gulf of Carpentaria in February 1861 - representing the first European team to cross Australia, south to north.
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While it is known Burke and Willis established a depot camp at Cooper Creek during their expedition, the youngest of this collection of non-returnable boomerangs was left in the mud three decades prior to this expedition. However, while this new study is indeed interesting, Ancient Origins readers will perhaps prefer the story of a boomerang discovered at Wyrie Swamp, in South Australia , dated at an incredible 10,000 years old.
A boomerang discovered at Wyrie Swamp, in South Australia, has been dated to an incredible 10,000 years old. ( South Australian Museum )
An article in Austhrotime explains that 25 ancient wooden hunting tools were discovered, of which 9 were complete boomerangs. Strewn among a collection of some of the oldest barbed spears ever discovered, some of the boomerangs were of the returning type, but more were non-returning, just like the four discovered in Cooper Creek. Thus, the new collection represents the coming of the end of a hunting and cultural tradition that is at least 10,000 years old.
Top image: A boomerang that was discovered in a dry section of the Cooper Creek bed in Australia. Source: Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka Traditional Land Owners Aboriginal Corporation
By Ashley Cowie