Modern women have weaker biceps compared to ancient women, who had stronger arm bones due to hard farm work, researchers suggest.
British scientists compared the bones of a diverse range of contemporary women with the bones of women who lived in Central Europe during the early 6,000 years of agriculture, UPI reports.
Women who lived 7,400 to 7,000 years ago had the same leg bone strength as present-day women who are elite rowers. But the arm bones of the former were 11 to 16% stronger for their size, and close to 30% stronger compared to the average university student, the study states.
In addition, women from 4,300 to 3,500 years ago had stronger arm bones by 9 to 13% compared to modern-day professional rowers, but 12% weaker leg bones.
The strength of ancient women’s arm bones were most likely because of farm activities such as tilling the soil or harvesting crops by hand, along with chores such as grinding grain for hours to make flour — all of which require constant, strenuous muscle activity in the upper arms, the researchers from the University of Cambridge say.
Alison Macintosh of Cambridge’s archeology department and study lead author, said,
This is the first study to actually compare prehistoric female bones to those of living women.
Macintosh added, “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.”
“It can be easy to forget that bone is a living tissue, one that responds to the rigors we put our bodies through,” she said in a university news release. “Physical impact and muscle activity both put strain on bone, called loading. The bone reacts by changing in shape, curvature, thickness and density over time to accommodate repeated strain.”
The study was published in the journal Science Advances.