NEW YORK -- What may be the world's oldest boomerang, carved from a woolly mammoth's tusk, has been discovered in a 23,000-year-old cave in Poland, scientists reported Wednesday.
But the discoverers are hesitant to try out their find. They don't want to risk damaging it.
As one archeology expert, commenting in the British science journal Nature, put it: 'Few scholars would comtemplate hurling prehistoric specimens into space to see if they come back.'
The 2-foot 4-inch, polished boomerang was unearthed in fragments by scientists from the Polish Academy of Sciences in an Upper Palaeolithic archeology site in Oblazowa Park in southern Poland.
Discovered near the boomerang was a human thumb bone, believed to be the earliest human remains ever found in Poland.
Although associated with aborigines in Australia, boomerangs have been uncovered by archeologists on five continents. Gold tipped boomerangs were discovered in King Tut's tomb in Egypt.
The oldest previously known boomerangs were three wooden specimens found in Wyrie Swamp in South Australia that are believed to be 10,000 years old.
Paul Valde-Nowak, leader of the Polish expedition, said in the Nature report that the newly-found object has 'all the characteristic traits of a complete boomerang.'
He said debris in the cave suggested it was inhabited by tribes of people who hunted reindeer some 23,000 years ago. The tribes probably migrated from southwestern Slovakia to the Don River basin, he said.
Along with the boomerang and thumb bone, the scientists found a pendant made from a snail shell, a wedge made of antler, a necklace of fox teeth and a number of stone tools.
The -inch thick boomerang apparently was carved from the tusk of a mammoth and polished smooth, Valde-Nowak said.
He said the archeologists did not know if the boomerang was used as a 'killing stick.'
Archeology author Paul Bahn, commenting on the find in Nature, said it may be possible to make a replica of the fragile object and test its aerodynamic capabilities.