Prehistoric Women had Stronger Arms than Modern Rowing Crews

It is probably not a good idea to mess with a prehistoric woman, since prehistoric women actually had stronger arms than modern rowing crews. This comes from a brand new study that compared bones from Central European women who dwelled during the initial 6,000 years when farming was prevalent. These comparisons indicate that an average prehistoric woman from this agricultural age would have stronger arms than current female rowing champions.

Agricultural Tasks of Prehistoric Women

Scientists from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge claim that this physical superiority was most likely developed because of working the soil and then harvesting crops manually, in addition to grinding grain for around five hours daily to create the needed flour afterwards.

Up until recently, several bioarchaeological studies of past behavior have evaluated the bones of these women only through direct comparison to the bones of men. But the bones of males respond to work and strain in much more dramatic manner than female bones do.

Previous Comparisons Were not as Accurate

The Cambridge researchers claim that this resulted in an underestimation of the scale of the actual physical demands that were withstood by women during prehistoric times.

“This is the first study to actually compare prehistoric female bones to those of living women,” noted Dr Alison Macintosh, who happened to be the lead author of a report recently posted in the publication Science Advances.

“By interpreting women’s bones in a female-specific context we can start to see how intensive, variable and laborious their behaviours were, hinting at a hidden history of women’s work over thousands of years.”

This research was part of an European Research Council-funded ADaPt (Adaption, Dispersals and Phenotype) Project, and employed a tiny CT scanner within PAVE laboratory at Cambridge to evaluate the arm and leg bones from currently living women that take part in a whole range of physical activities. Particularly, they examined rowers, runners, and footballers to women who lived a more sedentary lifestyle.

The bone strengths from modern women were then compared to the bones of women who lived during the early Neolithic agricultural ages all the way to those who lived in farming communities from the Middle Ages.

“It can be easy to forget that bone is a living tissue, one that responds to the rigours we put our bodies through. Physical impact and muscle activity both put strain on bone, called loading. The bone reacts by changing in shape, curvature, thickness and density over time to accommodate repeated strain,” Macintosh pointed out.

“By analysing the bone characteristics of living people whose regular physical exertion is known, and comparing them to the characteristics of ancient bones, we can start to interpret the kinds of labour our ancestors were performing in prehistory.”

Across a period of three weeks which occurred during the trial season, Macintosh scanned and examined the limb bones of various squads from the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, who actually wound up winning the annual Boat Race and even broke the course record. Most of these women were only in their early twenties, and they were also working out twice every day and in addition to that, they were rowing about 120km every week as well.

These Neolithic women who were examined during this study were living some 7400-7000 years ago and had leg bone strength that were very similar with modern rowers. However, the bones from their arms were about 11-16% stronger for their bone size than those from the rowers – this was almost a total of 30% stronger than those of a typical Cambridge student.