Ancient women had strong arms, say bone studies.

Science News demonstrates how the prehistoric agricultural revolution was fueled by women with mighty arm muscles:

In the early stages of farming more than 7,000 years ago, women engaged in a wide array of physically intense activities that were crucial to village life but have gone largely unnoticed by scientists, conclude biological anthropologist Alison Macintosh of the University of Cambridge and colleagues.

“Women’s labor provided the driving force behind the expansion of agricultural economies in the past,” Macintosh says.

Previous investigations underestimated the intensity of ancient farm women’s manual labor, the researchers contend online November 29 in Science Advances.

Using CT scans, the researchers examined cross sections of upper-arm and lower-leg bones of 83 women aged 19 to 43. The group included 17 rowers, 11 football (soccer) players and 18 endurance runners recruited from University of Cambridge sports teams and clubs, as well as 37 women who did not participate in organized sports.

Arm and leg bone measurements were also obtained from previously excavated skeletons of women who lived in Central European farming villages between around 7,300 and 1,200 years ago. Numbers of ancient women sampled ranged from 76 to 90, depending on which limb bone was examined.

Stronger bones were thicker, with more bone concentrated at key stress points.

Up to around 2,000 years ago, farm women displayed much greater arm strength relative to leg strength, the scientists say. A similar pattern of arm strength characterizes accomplished female rowers today.

Women from the earliest farming sites, dating to between about 7,300 and 7,000 years ago, had leg bones about as strong as those of modern rowers but arm bones between 11 and 16 percent stronger for their size than rowers. Women from about 4,200- to 3,500-year-old farming villages showed a comparable arm strength advantage over rowers but had slightly weaker leg bones than the modern athletes. Ancient farm women’s right arms were particularly strong. It’s unknown whether the skeletons were right- or left-handed, but presumably most favored their right hand, as do most people today.

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