Prehistoric women had really strong arms, study says

A new study suggests that performing manual agricultural work affected women's bodies significantly between about 5,300 BC to 100AD.
By Delila James | Nov 30, 2017
A new study of ancient bones reveals that prehistoric women had stronger arms than female rowing teams do today.

The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.

The study suggests that performing manual agricultural work affected women's bodies significantly between about 5,300 BC to 100AD.

"We think a lot of what we're 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," says co-author Dr. Alison Macintosh from the University of Cambridge in the UK, in a report by The Guardian.

By medieval times, however, women's arms had lost their strength and their arm bones measured about the same as a modern-day woman.

The researchers analyzed the remains of 94 women from early neolithic times about 5,300 BC to the 9th century, from countries in Central Europe, including Germany, Austria, and northern Serbia. They also studied bones of four groups of 83 living women: runners, rowers, footballers, and those who were mostly sedentary.

They found that neolithic women had arm bones some 30 percent stronger than non-sporty living women.

Previous research by the team on male leg bones also showed a decline in strength since the late iron age.

"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," Macintosh said. "Then [there is] this really progressive decline through time in bone strength, down to what you see in living sedentary undergraduate students at Cambridge."

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