Unraveling the "Toorale Man" murder mystery

Dr Rachel Wood and Dr Stewart Fallon from the Research School of Earth Sciences (ANU) are part of a team of scholars from several institutions across Australia that are helping to solve the history and mystery of Australia’s “Toorale Man”.

The “Toorale Man” is an Aboriginal skeleton, discovered in 2012 on the banks of the Darling River, north-western New South Wales, in an area that is now part of the Toorale National Park. His facial bones are damaged by a deep and fatal wound, which stretched from the forehead to the mouth. Initial speculation was that the wound was caused by a metal blade, suggesting that the man’s death was one of thousands that occurred during frontier violence waged between Aboriginals and Europeans after white settlement.

However, dating methods such as radiocarbon dating and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) suggest the remains date back to the late 13th century, long before the arrival of Europeans and their weapons. “The human remains were much, much older than we were expecting. For the bone and for the tooth, we have an age of around 1260 to 1280 cal. AD. So much, much earlier than we thought it was going to be”, said Dr Wood from the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory at the Research School of Earth Sciences, ANU.

The question now is to determine the weapon that caused the lethal injuries as metal only arrived in Australia with Macassan fishermen in the north and then with European settlement.

Watch the ABC Catalyst story on this research, featuring Dr Rachel Wood from RSES.