Prehistoric Women Had Bones Stronger Than Today’s Athletes, Study Finds

By Carl Velasco | Nov 30, 2017 07:19 AM EST

In the prehistoric era, women tilled soil, harvested crops, and ground grain by hand. That's why, compared with the modern woman, their bones were much, much stronger — in fact, were those prehistoric women alive now, they'll even be much stronger than our athletes.

Prehistoric Women Had Really Strong Bones

Specifically, these were the bones of 94 women who had lived in farming communities in Central Europe from 5300 BCE to 850 AD. These women developed strength optimum for rigorous farming work, and thus were able to pull much more weight than modern ones can today. They also started doing those activities at a young age, according to a new study published in the Science Advances journal.

Findings suggest that women performed laborious work and didn't leave those jobs to the men. They toiled long hours and apparently were a "driving force" that pushed the social and cultural development of agriculture for nearly 6,000 years, according to Alison Macintosh, a Cambridge University anthropologist.

"It's really important to be able to understand the contribution of women," said Macintosh.

Bones are crucial evidence that can tell how people behaved in the past. Bones store historical information such as how they were nourished or what sorts of physical activity they did throughout their life. People who work out develop stronger bones than those who don't.

To examine the physical demands placed on prehistoric women, the research team had to examine ancient bones from the Neolithic period up to the Middle Ages. They were then compared with the bones of the Women's Boat Club members at Cambridge University who spend 18 hours each week training. But the prehistoric bones still surpassed that of the rowers in terms of arm strength.

Their arms were 16 percent stronger than the rowers', and 30 percent stronger than typical Cambridge students examined.

The study is an important contribution in the small number of research that has been done to observe how ancient women behaved, what activities they did, and how their labor contributed to agriculture or similar fields.

"In anthropology, it's really new to incorporate the study of living humans to try and inform the past," said Macintosh. "What does exist has only been done on men."

Why This Kind Of Study Is Important

Macintosh's work, and similar research, seek important historical evidence of previously neglected women in society, and they all add detail to the developing tapestry of women's role in the grand historical context of human activities. History is a significantly important subject, if only to treat it as a lens through which the present day is viewed. Obviously, much has changed since then, but there are still some who believe that women aren't, or can't be, as strong, or stronger, than men.

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