|30 December 2007
Scandinavians invented ice skating in 3000 BCE
Archaeological evidence suggests that the first skates made of animal bones date back to 3000 BCE, helping people travel more widely during frozen winters in Finland, marking the start of the evolution of more sophisticated skates. Constructed of trimmed horse or cow bones, and pierced at one end and strapped to the foot with leather thongs, they were not powered by the classic skating motion but used in tandem with a long stick; skaters straddled the stick and poled themselves along.
In the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Dr Frederico Formenti and Professor Alberto Minetti of Oxford University lay out the evidence supporting the idea that the birth of ice skating took place in Southern Finland, where the number of lakes within a given area is the highest in the world. "In Central and Northern Europe, 5,000 years ago people struggled to survive the severe winter conditions and it seems unlikely that ice skating developed as a hobby," says Dr Formenti. "As happened later for skis and bicycles, I am convinced that we first made ice skates in order to limit the energy required for our daily journeys".
To test their theories the scientists made ice skates modelled on 23 ancient specimens in the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. In experiments on an ice rink by the Alps, the team measured the energy consumption of five retired professionals while skating on bones, showing they were relatively slow, reaching around 2.5 mph. However, through mathematical models and computer simulations of 240 ten-kilometre (six mile) journeys, their research shows that in winter the use of bone skates on frozen lakes - around 60,000 in Finland - would have limited the energy requirements of Finnish people by 10 per cent as they zipped about. The energy saving was only 3 per cent in Norway, and 1 per cent or less in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. The effect reflects the local geography of southern Finland, which has the highest concentration of lakes in a 100 sq km area anywhere in the world. "In order to better adapt to the severe conditions imposed by the long lasting winters, Finnish populations could benefit more than others from developing this ingenious locomotion tool."
Other research by the team shows that the energy cost of skating on ice decreased dramatically through history, as bone gave way to iron and then steel, with modern ice- skating only using 25 per cent of the effort associated with the use of bone skates. The researchers conclude: "Ice skates were probably the first human powered locomotion tools to take the maximum advantage from the biomechanical properties of the muscular system: even when travelling at relatively high speeds, the skating movement pattern required muscles to shorten slowly so that they could also develop a considerable amount of force."
Sources: EurekAlert! (23 December 2007), Times Online, The Guardian (24 December 2007), Telegraph (26 December 2007)
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