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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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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One little girl took pictures of her school lunches. The Internet responded — and so did the school.

If you listened to traditional news media (and sometimes social media), you'd begin to think the Internet and technology are bad for kids. Or kids are bad for technology. Here's a fascinating alternative idea.

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This article originally appeared on 03.31.15

Kids can innovate, create, and imagine in ways that are fresh and inspiring — when we "allow" them to do so, anyway. Despite the tendency for parents to freak out because their kids are spending more and more time with technology in schools, and the tendency for schools themselves to set extremely restrictive limits on the usage of such technology, there's a solid argument for letting them be free to imagine and then make it happen.

It's not a stretch to say the kids in this video are on the cutting edge. Some of the results he talks about in the video at the bottom are quite impressive.

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