Australian Neanderthals used boomerangs to cut stone tools

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Not just to throw! Australian Neanderthals used boomerangs to cut stone tools 500,000 years ago, new analysis reveals

  • Researchers studied 100 old boomerangs kept in the Australian Museum
  • They used methods to study the wear and tear of the boomerangs to keep track of their usage
  • The team found that Australian Neanderthals had many different uses for it
  • More than 500,000 years ago, they helped carve stone tools and even acted as toys

According to a new study, Neanderthals who lived in Australia 500,000 years ago used boomerangs to reshape stone tools, not just knock them over.

Griffith University researchers analyzed microscopic spores on the surface of 100 boomerangs collected from every state and territory in Australia.

The team says ancient people used the traditional curved wooden objects for a wider range of purposes than previously believed – including cutting stone.

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

According to a new study, Neanderthals who lived in Australia 500,000 years ago used boomerangs to reshape stone tools, not just knock them over.

The boomerangs used in this study are preserved by the Australian Museum in Sydney, allowing the researchers to explore findings from all over the continent in one sitting.

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

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

Martellotta explained that not all boomerangs are designed to come back, and most of the ones used by ancient people 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 bent pieces of wood were used, the team examined them under a microscope to look for telltale signs of wear.

‘We have found specific markings related to the shaping of stone tools. These markers are not new in archeology – they are also identified on bone fragments at archaeological sites in Europe, ‘Martellotta said.

“Here the Neanderthals used them to change the shape of stone tools, starting 500,000 years ago.”

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

Griffith University researchers analyzed microscopic spores on the surface of 100 boomerangs collected from every state and territory in Australia

Griffith University researchers analyzed microscopic spores on the surface of 100 boomerangs collected from every state and territory in Australia

The team says ancient people used the traditional curved wooden objects for a wider range of purposes than previously believed - including cutting stone

The team says ancient people used the traditional curved wooden objects for a wider range of purposes than previously believed – including cutting stone

“Our findings represent the first traceological identification of hardwood boomerangs used to form stone tools in various Aboriginal Australian contexts, but this is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

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

This research emphasizes the versatile nature of everyday resources – such as boomerangs – in Aboriginal culture.

“It is proof that new information could be excavated from old museum collections, information that could help answer archaeological and anthropological questions.”

The findings are published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports

Neanderthals, a close relative of modern humans, became extinct 40,000 years ago

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

The species lived in Africa with early humans for millennia before migrating to Europe about 300,000 years ago.

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

The Neanderthals were a cousin of humans, but not a direct ancestor - the two species are separate from a common ancestor - who perished about 50,000 years ago.  Depicted is an exhibition of a Neanderthal museum

The Neanderthals were a cousin of humans, but not a direct ancestor – the two species are separate from a common ancestor – who perished about 50,000 years ago. Depicted is an exhibition of a Neanderthal museum

These were the original ‘cavemen’, historically thought to be stupid and brazen in comparison to modern humans.

In recent years, and especially in the past decade, it has become increasingly clear that we are 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 them, buried their dead, painted them, 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 some 20,000 years older than the earliest modern human art.

They are said to have hunted and fished on land. However, they became extinct about 40,000 years ago after the success of Homo sapiens in Europe.

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