Think about the illustrations you’ve considered of men and women of the Bronze Age who lived thousands of years ago.
Perhaps there’s one you remember from your elementary school text volume — in which men are likely depicted hurling bronze spears and strangling lions with their bare hands, while the women are most likely pictured resulting children around, sifting through grapes or weaving tiny reeds into baskets( presumably to hold the fruits of their husbands’ labor ).
It’s an idealized image for some. Men and women, dividing labor according to their relative physical strength. Women did important work, but wholly in the domestic sphere, in part because they were less equipped to handle difficult manual labour. Each gender in their natural place. A comforting image of the style the world is “supposed to be.”
And according to new research, it’s an image that’s totally wrong in a major route.
According to a groundbreaking new study, Bronze Age girls were jacked .
Armed with a small CT scanner and a group of student guinea pigs, University of Cambridge researchers discovered that the limb bones of Central European women of the era were approximately 30% stronger than those of modern women — and 11% to 16% stronger than those of modern women on the the world champ Cambridge women’s crew team, who spend multiple hours a day trained to rowing a 60 -foot boat as fast as humanly possible.
“This is the first study to actually compare prehistoric female bones to those of living females, ” explained Alison Macintosh, research fellow at the University of Cambridge and lead writer of the study, in a news release.
The paper was published in the open-access journal Science Advances.
Agriculture, it turns out, is hard work. Work that Bronze Age girls handled on the reg.
Particularly grinding grain into flour, which requires the use of ludicrously heavy stones.
Based on proof from societies that still create bread products this way, the researchers determined the prehistoric females likely spent up to five hours a day pulverizing the edible bits so their villages was likely to feed food while “the mens” were derping around trophy hunting hyenas.
“The repetitive limb action of grinding these stones together for hours may have loaded women’s limb bones in a similar way to the laborious back-and-forth motion of rowing, ” Macintosh said.
In addition to grinding grain, researchers speculate ancient dames get up to a range of other muscle mass-building activities…
…including hauling food for livestock, slaughtering and butchering animals for food, scraping the skin off of dead cows and deadlifting it onto hooks to turn it into leather, and planting and harvesting crops wholly by hand.
And, while punching bears and ceremonially flinging boulders at the sunshine weren’t on the researchers’ specific list, it’s at least possible the women were doing that too.
“We believe it may be the wide variety of women’s work that in part constructs it so difficult to identify signatures of any one specific behaviour from their bones, ” Macintosh said.
Study senior author Jay Stock said the results indicate “the rigorous manual labour of women was a crucial driver of early agriculture economies.”
“The research demonstrates what we can learn about the human past through better understanding of human variation today, ” he added.
If nothing else, the findings should complicate the route we think of “women’s work” going back centuries. Since the daybreak of period, mankind has had boulders to grind. Animals to wrangle. Big, heavy things to lift, and limb muscles to build. And some woman had do it.
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