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Researchers had long known that Aboriginal Australians once used boomerangs for hunting and digging. Now, a new study suggests that the natives created ‘killer’ versions of the iconic Australian souvenirs to fight internal battles as well.
This stunning revelation into the lives of the ancient natives can be credited to the perfectly preserved skeletal remains of an Aboriginal male unearthed in eastern Australia’s Toorale National Park in 2014. Researchers estimated that the man, who was named Kaakutja (older brother), by members of the local Baakantji community who discovered him, was between 25 and 35 years old when he died. A closer examination indicated that his demise was probably caused by a large gash across his face. Kaakutja had also suffered two broken ribs and lost a portion of his upper arm. Two healed wounds in his skull indicated that the young man was no stranger to conflicts.
Michael Westaway and his team at Griffith University in Queensland, who helped excavate the skeleton, initially believed that the fatal injury across the young man’s face had been caused by a spear. This led them to assume that Kaakutja was a victim of the British Native Police, a group known to have killed many natives in the 1800s.
However, radiocarbon dating of the skeleton indicated that Kaakutja had died sometime in the mid-13th century, almost 600 years before the Europeans settlers came to Australia with their metal weapons. To verify the results, the researchers analyzed the sand grains found in the skull and the sediment in the pit where the skeleton had lain for centuries. They were trying to determine when the dirt had last been exposed to light. Sure enough, the dates were close to the ones indicated by the radiocarbon testing, confirming that the young man had not been killed by a spear as had been originally believed.
Curious to find out what weapon was used to kill the ancient aborigine, the paleoanthropologist and his team examined cave paintings in the vicinity that dated back to the 1300s and also dug deeper into Aboriginal history. Their research led them to two possible weapons – the Lil-lil, a type of club and Wonna, a fighting boomerang, which closely resembles the modern-day returning version except for one thing — Its blade is like a saber!
The researchers say that while either weapon could have caused the fatal six-inch wound, they are inclined to believe it was the boomerang. That’s because the facial injury appears to be “a rapid shock kind of blow” from an expertly thrown Wonna. The team speculates that the boomerang attack on the face was followed up by one on his ribs, which most likely brought Kaakutja on all fours. Then came the final blow that detached the top of his arm. While they are not sure which of the three injuries proved deadly for the young man, the lack of defensive wounds indicates that the attacker caught Kaakutja totally by surprise, giving him no time to react.
Westaway, who published the findings in the October issue of Antiquity, says, “This is the first time we’ve found evidence of someone possibly killed by a fighting boomerang, These hardwood weapons leave similar trauma patterns to steel weapons; that was unexpected.” After the murder mystery had been solved, the skeletal remains were returned to the Baakantji community, who gave Kaakutja the traditional burial he deserved.
Resources: Dailymail.co.uk,cambridge.org, phys.org