Scientists compared the bones of modern and ancient women and made a surprising discovery.

Think about the illustrations you've seen of men and women of the Bronze Age who lived thousands of years ago.

Perhaps there's one you recall from your elementary school text book — in which men are probably depicted hurling bronze spears and strangling lions with their bare hands, while the women are most likely pictured leading children around, sifting through grapes or weaving tiny reeds into baskets (presumably to hold the fruits of their husbands' labor).

In a village kind of like this. Photo by Angella Streluk/Geograph.uk.


It's an idealized image for some. Men and women, dividing labor according to their relative physical strength. Women did important work, but entirely in the domestic sphere, in part because they were less equipped to handle difficult manual labor. Each gender in their natural place. A comforting image of the way the world is "supposed to be."

And according to new research, it's an image that's totally wrong in a major way.

According to a groundbreaking new study, Bronze Age women were jacked.

Bronze Age woman or 1980s champion weightlifter Karyn Marshall? Hard to say. Photo by Virginia Tehan/Wikimedia Commons.

Armed with a small CT scanner and a group of student guinea pigs, University of Cambridge researchers discovered that the arm bones of Central European women of the era were roughly 30% stronger than those of modern women — and 11% to 16% stronger than those of modern women on the the world champion Cambridge women's crew team, who spend multiple hours a day training 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 women," explained Alison Macintosh, research fellow at the University of Cambridge and lead author 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 women handled on the reg.

Particularly grinding grain into flour, which requires the use of ludicrously heavy stones.

Based on evidence from societies that still produce bread products this way, the researchers determined the prehistoric women likely spent up to five hours a day pulverizing the edible bits so their villages could actually eat food while the men were derping around trophy hunting hyenas.

"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," Macintosh said.

In addition to grinding grain, researchers speculate ancient ladies got 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 entirely by hand.

And, while punching bears and ceremonially tossing boulders at the sun 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 makes it so difficult to identify signatures of any one specific behavior from their bones," Macintosh said.

Study senior author Jay Stock said the results suggest "the rigorous manual labour of women was a crucial driver of early farming economies."

A farm. Photo by Francisco Leong/Getty Images.

"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 way we think of "women's work" going back centuries. Since the dawn of time, mankind has had boulders to grind. Animals to wrangle. Big, heavy things to lift, and arm muscles to build. And some woman had do it.

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Culture

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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