Prehistoric women had stronger arms than modern-day rowers, likely due to the rigours of early farming, which included tilling fields and grinding grain by hand, researchers said last week.

The study in the journal Science Advances is the first to compare the bones of women who lived 7,000 years ago in Central Europe to women of today — specifically championship rowers and British college students. Previous studies have compared female to male bones, but this approach likely underestimated the workload of women because men’s bones “respond to strain in a more visibly dramatic way than female bones,” said the report.

Repeated exercise, or lack of it, can affect bone density, curvature and shape. Researchers found that the arm bones of Neolithic women — who lived from 7,000 to 7,400 years ago — were 11to 16 per cent stronger for their size than rowers from the elite Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club. These rowers are mostly in their early twenties and have been training for seven years. Each week they practice for 21 hours and row an average of 120 km.

The primitive female farmers’ arms were almost 30 per cent stronger than typical Cambridge students, said the report. “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,” said lead author Alison Macintosh of Cambridge University.

The Straits Times/ANN