If a group of prehistoric women somehow time-traveled to the present, they could probably lick the rowers of Cambridge University’s boat club in a race. A new study – the first to compare bones of ancient and living women – reveals a hidden history of Central European women performing strenuous manual labor for millennia. The average ancient women had stronger upper arms than today’s female rowing champions.


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A new study led by Cambridge University’s Alison Macintosh adds more fuel to girl power fire by revealing prehistoric women living during the first 6,000 years of farming possessed physical prowess that would put competitive athletes to shame. These women could have grown strong tilling soil, harvesting crops, or grinding grain for as long as five hours a day.

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The University of Cambridge said bioarchaeological investigations until now compared women’s bones with men’s. But female and male bones react differently to strain, with male bones responding in a more visibly dramatic way, according to the university. Macintosh said in their statement, “By interpreting women’s bones in a female-specific context we can start to see how intensive, variable, and laborious their behaviors were, hinting at a hidden history of women’s work over thousands of years.”

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The researchers scrutinized Neolithic women from around 7,400 to 7,000 years ago, and found their arm bones were 11 to 16 percent stronger for their size compared against rowers part of the Open and Lightweight squads at the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club – athletes who were victorious in the 2017 Women’s Boat Race. The prehistoric women were also nearly 30 percent stronger than typical Cambridge University students.

Study co-author Jay Stock of Cambridge and Canada’s Western University said, “Our findings suggest that for thousands of years, the rigorous manual labor of women was a crucial driver of early farming economies.”

The journal Science Advances published the study this week. Ron Pinhasi of the University of Vienna also contributed.

Via The University of Cambridge

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