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Prehistoric tusks: early boomerang?

Prehistoric tusk: Early boomerang?

Scientists who found a curved piece of mammoth tusk in a cave in southern Poland have dubbed it the world's oldest known boomerang, dating to about 23,000 years ago.

The claim is based on the artifact's shape, curvature and flattening at both ends, report Pawel Valde-Nowak and his colleagues of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow. It spans about 27 inches and is up to 2.3 inches wide and 0.6 inches thick. One side preserves the external, rounded surface of the tusk, while the other has been polished almost flat.

The age of the purported boomerang could be estimated, say the investigators in the Sept. 30 NATURE, because it was found in a layer of sediment containing stone and bone tools belonging to a known culture of prehistoric central Europe. Although the teeth and bones of a variety of amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals were also excavated, human food remains appear to be mainly split reindeer bones. Amid the tools and animal bones, the researchers also found a human thumb bone.

The mammoth tusk "certainly makes a plausible boomerang,' writes English archaeologist Paul G. Bahn in the same NATURE, but not all curved objects are necessarily boomerangs. Versions of the boomerang have been found on five continents, he says, but "killing sticks' that did not return after being thrown are more numerous in both prehistoric and historic times. The aerodynamic properties of sticks that happened to be curved may have been exploited on occasion.

The true test of the artifact would be to hurl it into space and see if it comes back, says Bahn, but researchers are unlikely to take such a risk with a delicate prehistoric object. It may be possible, he explains, to experiment with a cast or replica, although warping or other damage to the long-buried artifact may interfere with such reenactments.

Nevertheless, the Polish scientists say that their discovery is "the oldest definite find' of a boomerang. They add that the range of human artifacts and the geographic location of the cave suggest that the site may have been a temporary shelter for human groups migrating northeast through central Europe.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 3, 1987
Words:363
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