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Ancient tools meet nuclear technology

By David, 19 November 2020 News

Image of traditional tools labeled and placed in a box.

These ancient tools are about to undergo some high-tech testing

Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka Traditional Owners recently travelled to Lucas Heights, home of Australia’s nuclear reactor. They’re searching for clues from nuclear science to help tell the story of some ancient tools.

Ancient tools

When rangers recovered several wooden tools from a creek bed in Innamincka Regional Reserve, South Australia, they immediately told the local Traditional Owners.

“This was an exciting and a very unexpected find,” says Joshua Haynes, the former Chair of the Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka Traditional Land Owners Corporation. Very few wooden tools have survived on-country, which makes these tools particularly special.

“As Traditional Owners we have learnt a lot about this country from our families,” says Joshua. “And we hope to learn more from being able to unlock secrets held within these very significant cultural tools.”

Cutting edge tests

Right now, the tools are undergoing tests at ANSTO’s nuclear reactor. For one test, scientists took tiny samples of the wood. They will work out when the wood was originally cut by measuring naturally occurring radioactive carbon in the sample. This process is called radiocarbon dating.

The tools will also undergo an advanced X-ray scan. Like a medical X-ray, this scan will look inside the objects. In this case, it can show tree rings and other structures. At the same time, it will reveal the chemical elements in the tools through a technique called X-ray fluorescence.

With all this information, researchers may work out what type of tree these tools were made from and help Traditional Owners learn even more about their ancestors.

“I am looking forward to what ANSTO will be able to tell us,” says Joshua. “Our ancestors could have used these [tools] 100 years ago, or as far back as 10 000 years ago!”

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