Researchers have come up with a good reason why you wouldn’t want to have challenged a Neolithic woman to an arm wrestle.
Women more than 7,000 years ago had stronger arms than female Cambridge University rowers, a study has found.
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 11-16 per cent stronger for their size than those of Cambridge University’s female rowing crews. They were almost 30 per cent 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.
Lead scientist Dr Alison Macintosh, from Cambridge University’s Department of Archaeology, said: “This is the first study to actually compare prehistoric female bones to those of living women.
“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.”
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.
“For millennia, grain would have been ground by hand between two large stones called a saddle quern.
“The repetitive arm action of grinding these stones together for hours may have loaded women’s arm bones in a similar way to the laborious back-and-forth motion of rowing.”
The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.