Prehistoric women’s arms were stronger than those of today’s elite rowers – Technology & Science

If you’re looking to build up those arm muscles, you may want to try grinding grain for hours a day.

Researchers have discovered the bones of women dating back 7,000 years showed their arms were stronger than those of some of today’s top female rowers, and that they may be due to their highly agricultural lifestyle.

The scientists analyzed the arm bones from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages and found that, in particular, the arms of women from the Neolithic Age — when farming first began — were about 11 to 16 per cent stronger than women rowers of today.

“They’re farming without the plow or mechanized anything,” Alison Macintosh, the Canadian lead researcher who is now with the University of Cambridge, told CBC News. “They have to till the soil by hand, with things like digging sticks and hoes. So that’s a lot of manual work. And they also do all the planting and harvesting and the grinding of the grain to make flour…. That’s a lot of manual labour.”

‘I felt a little vindicated for showing that women were indeed not just sitting on their butts.’
– Alison Macintosh, University of Cambridge

The research stemmed out of a previous study that compared the bones of prehistoric women to those of men. That study found women of the time to be weaker when compared to men, but Macintosh said that it wasn’t a complete picture. Comparing women to women provided a better understanding of the kind of lives those in prehistoric times were living.

“I felt a little vindicated for showing that women were indeed not just sitting on their butts,” Macintosh said. “I didn’t suspect that was the case, but it feels nice to provide that data from living women and to highlight that hidden history of women’s work.”

It’s believed that Neolithic women did extensive agricultural work, which may be why their arms were much stronger than those of women today. (Wikimedia Commons/Matteo De Stefano/MUSE)

For their study, published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers scanned the bones from various sites in central Europe and compared them to those of women involved in trials with the open and lightweight squads at the University of Cambridge’s rowing team.

They found that the arm bones of Neolithic women, dating from 7,400 to 7,000 years ago, were 11 to 16 per cent stronger than those of the rowers, or 30 per cent stronger than typical Cambridge students. Their leg bones were comparable to those of the rowers.

For the women of the…

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