| 7 December 2017
Neolithic women's arm bones stronger than today's elite female rowers
The study of ancient bones suggests agricultural work had a profound effect on the bodies of women living in central Europe between the early Neolithic and late Iron Age, from about 5,300 BCE to 100 CE.
University of Cambridge study co-author Dr Alison Macintosh, says: "We think a lot of what we are seeing is the bone's response to women grinding grain, which is pretty much seated but using your arms really repetitively many hours a day."
By medieval times, the strength of women's arm bones was on a par with that of the average woman today.
The research builds on previous work on male leg bones by the same team, which revealed a decline in strength since the late Iron Age.
Dr Macintosh reveals: "Early farming men had these really strong leg bones - when you compared them to living men they were close to what you see in living runners, suggesting they were really active."
The team examined the remains of 94 women spanning about 6,000 years from around 5,300 BCE through to the 9th century, from countries including Germany, Austria, and northern Serbia, as well as scans from bones of 83 living women runners, rowers, footballers, and others not particularly athletic.
The results demonstrate that while the arm bones of women from the Neolithic to the late Iron Age showed variations in strength, they were consistently stronger than those of rowers, football players, and non-athletic women for their left arm, and the latter two groups for their right.
While grinding grain was likely a key factor in boosting ancient women's bone strength, pottery making, planting and harvesting crops, tending livestock and other strenuous occupations could also have contributed.
"Women have been doing rigorous labour over thousands of years that's really been underestimated so far because we haven't been comparing them to living women," Dr Macintosh concludes.
Edited from The Guardian (29 November 2017)
Share this webpage: