William Bates was on the bank of the Darling River, New South Wales, in 2014 when he discovered a skull sticking out of the soil. The specimen was named Kaakuja, meaning “older brother” in Baakantji. Mr. Bates noticed a gash on the skull stretching across the right side of the face from the eye all the way to the jaw, he believed the gash to be caused by a metal blade when Kaakutja was attacked by European colonists. 1
Kaakutja was excavated with the help of Michael Westaway a paleoanthropologist from Griffith University in Queensland. The body had received a ritual burial and was curled up on his right side facing upstream, Kaakutja was discovered to be a male between 20 and 30 years of age. In addition to the gash across his skull, damage to his arm and ribs was also discovered. 2
Samples were sent to Rachel Wood, a geochemist from the Australian National University for radiocarbon dating. The results of radiocarbon dating showed that Kaakutja had lived between 1260 and 1280 CE meaning that he had died before colonists from Europe reached the Australian continent. Optical analysis tests were also done on sand grains lodged in Kaakutja’s skull and sediment from the site of the burial. These tests suggested he was buried between 1305 and 1525 CE supporting the findings that Kaakutja had lived and died before the arrival of European colonists. This meant Kaakutja was killed by another native of Australia with a traditional wooden weapon making it the first archaeological discovery of its kind in Australia. 3
Aboriginal histories and literature were used to help in finding out what type of weapon was used to kill Kaakutja. The information gave two options; a type of wood club called a Lil-Lil and the Wonna, a fighting boomerang like the commonly known returning boomerang but with a sharp blade. 4
The team was surprised by the similarities between the wounds that were caused by a traditional wooden weapon and wounds caused by steel weapons. 5 This brings about the question of whether they discovered any evidence of wood in Kaaktja’s wounds to help prove that he was indeed killed with a traditional weapon such as a boomerang. However, when Claire Smith an archaeologist from Flinders University in Australia reviewed the study she agreed with the findings. 6 Therefore, it makes it possible that Kaaktja was the first person discovered to have been killed by a wooden weapon such as the boomerang. The science was described in a way that someone with a rudimentary understanding of Archaeology would have been able to understand the findings and learn both about the way in which Kaakitja died and more about Archaeology.