World of The Boomerang

Across the continents and time.

Aboriginal man Combo of Bogan River 1836

Aboriginal man Combo of Bogan River 1836
Photographer: Reproduction © Courtesy of the Research Library, Australian Museum

Think of Australia and a boomerang may well come to mind as one of the country's most unique and distinctive emblems. In the shorthand of our memories the boomerang is as Australian as the kangaroo, koala or Vegemite. No-one was surprised to see Australia's 2000 Olympics logo featuring boomerangs.

More surprising, for some, is the fact that boomerangs were used for many thousands of years in other parts of the world as well. A wooden boomerang found by archaeologists in Little Salt Spring in Florida, USA, was broken and discarded by its owner some 9,000 years ago. In the 1986 excavation of a limestone cave in southern Poland, a complete boomerang, beautifully carved from mammoth tusk and about 23,000 years old, was recovered (see reference). Remember, Central Europe was then in the grip of the last Ice Age with a climate similar to northern Siberia or the north of Canada today. Trees were absent and people used bones and tusks of animals to make their tools, implements and weapons.

Few of us associate the boomerang with ancient Egypt in Northern Africa or Sumer at the head of the Persian Gulf. Yet the boomerang was used in these countries. The Sumerians, who invented the first writing system, had the graphic symbol for such an object some three thousand years before Christ was born. In 624 the Isidore of Sevilla, Archbishop and Christian scholar of late antiquity, wrote about boomerangs used at that time around the Mediterranean Sea and possibly in southern Europe. In fact, the boomerang was known outside Australia at least until the nineteenth century. The Hopi people of Arizona, USA hunted rabbits with it. The Indian boomerang, known as valai tadis, was used in several areas of the Subcontinent for hunting hares, deer and partridges. It was also used as a weapon of war.

P. Valde-Nowak, A. Nadachowski & M. Wolsan, Upper Palaeolithic boomerang made of a mammoth tusk in south Poland, Nature 329 1987, 436 - 438

Dr Stan Florek , Collection Officer
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