Neolithic women had stronger arms than elite female rowers due to farm work

Claire Lamb, left, and Sinead Lynch of Ireland in action during the Women's Lightweight Double Sculls heats in Lagoa Stadium, Copacabana, during the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Claire Lamb, left, and Sinead Lynch of Ireland in action during the Women's Lightweight Double Sculls heats in Lagoa Stadium, Copacabana, during the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Brú na Bóinne - the Neolithic site of Newgrange in county Meath.

John von Radowitz

Women more than 7,000 years ago had stronger arms than elite female rowers.

Manual grinding of grain between large stones to make flour may have contributed to their powerful biceps, experts believe.

Scientists used computed tomography (CT) scanning to analyse the bones of central European Neolithic women who lived during the first few thousand years after the advent of agriculture.

There was nothing unusual about the women's leg bones, but their arm bones were 11-16pc stronger for their size than those of Cambridge University's female rowing crews.

They were almost 30pc stronger than typical Cambridge students.

Bones become thicker and denser in response to physical impact and muscle strain. Stronger bones are generally an indication of stronger muscles.

"This is the first study to actually compare prehistoric female bones to those of living women," lead scientist Dr Alison Macintosh, from Cambridge University's department of archaeology, said.

"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."

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Life for the Neolithic women would have been gruelling, involving long hours tilling the soil and harvesting crops by hand. They may have had to grind grain for as much as five hours a day to make flour.

The findings are published in the journal 'Science Advances'.

Irish Independent