Aboriginal Spear thrower
An Aboriginal spear thrower is also commonly known as Woomera or Miru. It is a weapon that uses leverage to achieve greater velocity and distance in spear throwing.
The aim of this article is to look at the variety of Aboriginal Spear Throwers. As weapons and as a collectable aboriginal art form.
There are several different distinctive styles of spear thrower from different aboriginal tribes. In general the value of a spear thrower will depend on its rarity age and the beauty of the design.
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The aboriginal spear-thrower is held in one hand, gripped near the end farthest from the peg. The spear propelled by the action of the upper arm and wrist. Spear thrower in action
The throwing arm together with the aboriginal spear thrower acts as a lever. The spear-thrower is a low mass, fast-moving extension of the throwing arm, increasing the length of the lever. This extra length allows the thrower to impart force to the spear over a longer distance. This allows greater force resulting in higher speeds and greater distance.
The thrower grips the end covered with Spinifex resin and places the end of the spear into the small peg on the opposite end of the spear thrower. A spear-thrower is a long-range hunting weapon and can make a spear reach speeds of as much as 150 km/h.
Spear throwers appear very early in human history in several parts of the world. The antiquity of the spear thrower in Australia is at least 40,000 BP. The ancient skeleton of Mungo Man had severe osteoarthritis of the right elbow indicating he had used a spear thrower for many years.
Aboriginal spear throwers were useful in warfare as well as for hunting. Wide spear throwers can also deflect incoming spears. The Aboriginal spear thrower sometimes had a very sharp piece of quartz rock inserted into the Spinifex resin handle. This made it a multipurpose tool capable of cutting, shaping or sharpening. The spear thrower was also used as a fire-making saw, and a receptacle of mixing ochre, in ceremonies.
The designs on aboriginal spear throwers were also sometimes very personal and empowered them.
Aboriginal Spear thrower from South Eastern Australia
Aboriginal spear throwers from South Eastern Australia are rare. They tend to all have early collection dates as Aboriginal Culture changed after after european contact. In general spear throwers from this area look like a short wooden harpoon and are quite narrow. They are often carved sometimes with an almost floral motif but can be plain. A few examples were also carved over with designs to sell to early European settlers. They can have resin handles but do not have pins rather a wooden hook. Aboriginals made Spear throwers in this area for hunting but also for warfare along with broad shields.
Aboriginal Spear throwers from South Western Australia
Aboriginal spear throwers from the South of Western Australia are leaf shaped and not incised. They have a bone peg at the top attached by animal sinew and often have an asymmetric spinifex resin handle.
They are flat and not convex like spear thowers from the desert regions of Western Australia. Despite being plain there is a certain beauty in their simplicity.
Aboriginal Spear throwers from North Queensland
Aboriginal spear throwers from North Queensland have Bivalve shells on the handle instead of spinifex. The pins are wood not bone and attached with animal sinew. The most collectable examples have little red seeds decorating the space between the bivalve shells.
They are all flat but wary a lot in width depending on the exactly where they come from. The very thin ones and very wide ones are the most collectable. they are the most aerodynamic of the spear throwers when used.
Aboriginal spear throwers from Arnhem Land
Arnhem land spear throwers are long and thin. They are often over a meter long and have bone pins but lack the spinifex handles.
Instead of the spinifex handle they have distinctive notches on the handle allowing for better grip. When used for ceremonial occasions they were painted in ochres in clan motifs. Painted examples are more collectable.
The painted designs on these spear throwers are similar to those on bark paintings. With experience it is often possible to find out which area and artist created the design.
Aboriginal spear throwers from the Kimberley
Spear throwers from the Kimberley are like those from Arnhem Land but in general have a more graceful teardrop shape. They are not incised but are quite often decorated with ochre.
They are sometimes painted with images of Wandjina spirits by famous artists,
Aboriginal Spear throwers from Inland Western Australia and Central Australia
Spear throwers from Central Australia and inland Western Australia are by far the most common type of spear thrower.
They are collectable because they are often lovingly incised with a variety of designs. Some designs are quite common and other designs very rare depending on which clan / tribe that made them.
In general the broader the better and the more detailed the design the more collectable.
Older examples usually have a chip carved reverse.