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Australian Neanderthals used boomerangs to carve stone tools

Not just for throwing! Australian Neanderthals used boomerangs to carve stone tools 500,000 years ago, new analysis reveals

  • Researchers studied 100 ancient boomerangs held at the Australian Museum 
  • They used methods to study the wear on the boomerangs to track their use
  • The team discovered Australian neanderthals had many different uses for them
  • Over 500,000 years ago they helped carve stone tools and even acted as toys 

Neanderthals living in Australia 500,000 years ago used boomerangs to modify the shape of stone tools and not just for throwing, according to a new study.

Researchers from Griffith University analysed microscopic traces on the surface of 100 boomerangs gathered from across each state and territory in Australia.

The team say ancient humans made use of the traditional curved wooden objects for a wider range of purposes than was previously assumed – including carving stone.

Study author Eva Martellotta said boomerangs would have had multiple purposes and not all of them would have been the kind that returned to their owner.  

Neanderthals living in Australia 500,000 years ago used boomerangs to modify the shape of stone tools and not just for throwing, according to a new study

The boomerangs used in this study are held by the Australian Museum in Sydney, allowing the researchers to explore findings from across the continent in one go.

They examined microscopic marks on the surface of the boomerangs using a traceological – also known as use wear – method.

By using this method, the researchers were able to more clearly see what tasks the boomerangs were used for by Aboriginal Australians in the past. 

Martellotta explained that not all boomerangs are designed to come back, with most of those used by ancient humans were for hunting and fighting purposes.

‘The returning ones are often children’s toys or used for games and learning purposes,’ she said.

To learn more about how these curved pieces of wood were used the team explored them under a microscope to look for telltale signs of wear.

‘We found specific marks related to the shaping of stone tools. These marks are not new in archaeology – they are also identified on bone fragments in archaeological sites in Europe,’ Martellotta said.

‘Here, the Neanderthals used them to modify the shape of stone tools, starting 500,000 years ago.’

The discovery shows just how important boomerangs were to Aboriginal culture, used as multipurpose tools and even toys for children.

Researchers from Griffith University analysed microscopic traces on the surface of 100 boomerangs gathered from across each state and territory in Australia

Researchers from Griffith University analysed microscopic traces on the surface of 100 boomerangs gathered from across each state and territory in Australia

The team say ancient humans made use of the traditional curved wooden objects for a wider range of purposes than was previously assumed - including carving stone

The team say ancient humans made use of the traditional curved wooden objects for a wider range of purposes than was previously assumed – including carving stone

‘Our findings constitute the first traceological identification of hardwood boomerangs being used for shaping stone tools in various Aboriginal Australian contexts, but this is only the tip of the iceberg,’ she said.

‘Ethnographic evidence show that boomerangs were also used for making fire, for playing music, and as digging sticks. 

‘This research emphasises the multipurpose nature of daily tools – like boomerangs – in Aboriginal culture.

‘It is proof that new information could be unearthed from old museum collections, information that could help answer archaeological and anthropological questions.’ 

The findings have been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 

A close relative of modern humans, Neanderthals went extinct 40,000 years ago

The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor that mysteriously died out around 40,000 years ago.

The species lived in Africa with early humans for millennia before moving across to Europe around 300,000 years ago.

They were later joined by humans, who entered Eurasia around 48,000 years ago.  

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor - the two species split from a common ancestor -  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor – the two species split from a common ancestor –  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

These were the original ‘cavemen’, historically thought to be dim-witted and brutish compared to modern humans.

In recent years though, and especially over the last decade, it has become increasingly apparent we’ve been selling Neanderthals short.

A growing body of evidence points to a more sophisticated and multi-talented kind of ‘caveman’ than anyone thought possible.

It now seems likely that Neanderthals had told, buried their dead, painted and even interbred with humans.   

They used body art such as pigments and beads, and they were the very first artists, with Neanderthal cave art (and symbolism) in Spain apparently predating the earliest modern human art by some 20,000 years.

They are thought to have hunted on land and done some fishing. However, they went extinct around 40,000 years ago following the success of Homo sapiens in Europe.  



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