Nuclear research of Aboriginal throwing sticks used hundreds of years ago

[by  Zoe Landry]


Sean Freeman, Adviser to Yandruwandha, Joshua Haynes, former Chairman of the Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka Traditional Land Owners Corporation (YYTLOAC) Board, and Cindy Schaefer, YYTLOAC Board Member. Image: supplied

Original tools used by ancestors of the Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka traditional owners from South Australia were delivered for examination using nuclear research techniques at ANSTO.


The tools, aboriginal throwing sticks, were discovered by chance and can offer exciting new insights into the lives of some of South Australia’s original inhabitants.


Joshua Haynes, former Chairman of the Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka Traditional Land Owners Corporation (YYTLOAC) Board, and Cindy Schaefer, who sits on the YYTLOAC Board, visited ANSTO to deliver the traditional throwing sticks for analysis.


“This was an exciting and a very unexpected find,” Joshua said.


“As traditional owners we have learnt a lot about this country from our families and we hope to learn more from being able to unlock secrets held within these very significant cultural tools.


“I am looking forward to what ANSTO will be able to tell us about our ancestors who used these objects. Our ancestors could have used these 100 years ago, or as far back as 10,000 years ago!”


ANSTO scientist Dr Vladimir Levchenko, has been liaising with an archaeological consultant team from South Australia, Sean Freeman, who advises the Yandruwandha Aboriginal community.


“The wooden throwing sticks were found in a creek bed, and by using nuclear research techniques we will be able to find out more about their age and any other useful insights,” Dr Levchenko said.


“We will use non-destructive x-ray scanning methods to look at things like the tree rings, type of wood used, trace elements concentrations, and radiocarbon dating will be able to tell us the age of the object, with great accuracy.


“ANSTO are experts in radiocarbon dating – a method that has transformed our understanding of the past 50,000 years.


“Radiocarbon dating helps us to accurately determine the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon, a radioactive isotope of carbon.


“Because of ANSTO’s unique expertise in microsample radiocarbon measurements, the size of material required for analyses is extremely small. The sampling process does not visually affect the object in any way.


“Once we have done our analysis, we will give the objects back to the Traditional Owners.”


A number of examples of wooden artefacts in museums have been collected over the last 200 years with very few examples survived on-country.


Many items that were used by the first Australians were made of wood and other organic materials and few have survived, even those of relatively recent age.


ANSTO has used similar radiocarbon dating techniques to determine the age of aboriginal rock art in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.


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