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How Strong Were the Women of the Neolithic Period?

When humans settled in villages and started to farm, they took on a lot of manual labor. Tilling, harvesting, and grinding grain were physically taxing, and women certainly pulled their weight in prehistoric and ancient societies. So it's not entirely surprising that a new analysis of the bones of women of the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age found that the arm strength of those hard-working women was as much as 16 percent greater than that of today’s women -- even elite collegiate rowers in peak physical condition.

Flexing prehistoric muscles:

  • Food processing was especially hard on the arms. People, often women, manually crushed cereal grains with a grinding stone called a saddle quern -- often for five hours a day.

  • Researchers examined women's skeletons from cemeteries in Europe dating back to the Neolithic era, as early as 5300 B.C., through the Middle Ages, as late as 850 A.D.

  • They compared those findings to CT scans of the bones of elite runners, rowers, and soccer players at the University of Cambridge. The results were published in the journal Science Advances.

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