AAA2020 Virtual Conference Banner 7 - 10 Dec

New Investigations in Old Collections: Australian Hardwood Boomerangs used as Retouchers

Eva Francesca Martellotta
Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Environmental Future Research Institute, School of Environment and Science, Griffith University

Jayne Wilkins
Adam Brumm
Michelle Langley

Retouchers – i.e. osseous implements used for shaping the edges of lithic tools – are among the most ancient bone tools in existence. In Europe, they were mostly made from the butchered remains of large herbivores, and they were present in the human toolkit through the entire Palaeolithic. A different situation could be observed in Australia; here, although a great number of stone tools are retouched, bone retouchers are absent from both the material culture and the literature, and no systematic studies on organic-based retouch activity have been carried out.

In the present study, a systematic analysis of the ethnographic reports on Aboriginal population of the past 150 years has been carried out. It shows the use of unsuspected implements as retouchers: the wooden tools. Several evidences could be found about the employment of hardwood boomerangs, wooden blades or simple wooden stick as retouchers by means of percussion movements. From a preliminary literature review, the references to the retouching seem to appear only within the description of other daily activities – especially woodworking.

On the basis of these ethnographic evidence, we present the analysis of a sample of hardwood boomerangs recovered from the collection of the Australian Museum in Sydney. The items belong to different communities in Australia, and retouch-induced marks on their surface have been recognised. Such marks are linkable to the ones observed on the bone surface of the European retouchers. These results will allow to identify the presence of organic retouchers in Australian contexts and to propose, for the first time, a systematic study of the retouch activity in the Australia’s deep past. Finally, among the ethnographical reports it is often observed that tools with an apparently very specific function (e.g., hunting or fighting boomerangs) are also used as retouchers.


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