Prehistoric Women Were Stronger Than Some of Today's Elite Female Athletes

iStock
iStock

Farming is hard work, and prehistoric women in Central Europe—who tilled and harvested fields, ground grain, and hauled crops without help from modern equipment—likely had the muscles to prove it, according to a new study spotted by Discover.

Published in the journal Science Advances, the study compared the arm and leg bones of modern female athletes to those of female farmers from Central Europe during four different eras spanning 5500 years—the Neolithic Era, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the Medieval period. Using laser scans and molds, Cambridge archaeologist Alison Macintosh and a team of scientists were able to examine the bones' shapes and rigidity, as these factors indicate how much muscle they once had around them. They measured these observations against CT scans of female Cambridge University rowers, endurance runners, and soccer players, as well as those of non-athletes.

Not only were the Neolithic women's leg bones comparable in strength to those of the rowers, the arm bones were 11 to 16 percent stronger. (When sedentary students were factored into the mix, this difference in strength was as high as 30 percent.) Strength also ranged among prehistoric women, suggesting that women specialized in specific forms of manual labor.

These findings contradict the theory that prehistoric women performed domestic work instead of manual labor. Around 10,000 years ago, humans began shifting from hunting and gathering to farming. This didn't just change their eating habits—it also changed their bones, as skeletons stretch and twist in response to stresses. Because men were running less, their shinbones became straighter and less stiff. But women's shinbones remained largely the same over the time periods, prompting some scholars to conclude that they performed less strength-intensive tasks. The paper's authors say that theory underestimates women's activity in prehistoric societies.

Plus, Discover points out, studies of prehistoric behavior often compare female skeletons with male ones—an unfair comparison, considering that men's bodies respond differently to strain.

"We felt it was likely a huge oversimplification to say [prehistoric women] were simply not doing that much, or not doing as much as the men, or were largely sedentary," Macintosh told Science.

[h/t Discover]

Advanced CT Scans Reveal Blood Vessels and Skin Layers in a Mummy's Hand

Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Mummies hold some intriguing secrets to their pasts, like the food they ate and the diseases they had when they were alive. Now scientists are using a tool originally designed for medicine to get an even deeper look at the clues mummified bodies carry with them into the present day, Gizmodo reports.

In a proof-of-concept study published in the journal Radiology, researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden detail how a new-and-improved CT scanning technique can be used to visualize the interior of mummies on a microscopic level. By creating detailed X-ray images, CT scans allow doctors to see inside their patients without invasive surgery. Archaeologists have been using this technology to study delicate ancient artifacts for years, but the level of detail that can be achieved this way—especially when it comes to looking at interior soft tissue—is limited.

The upgraded version of the tech, called phase-contrast CT scanning, measures the phase shift, or the change in the position of a light wave, that occurs when X-rays pass through solid objects. The images generated this way have a higher contrast level than conventional X-rays, which means they capture more detail.

Cross-section of mummy hand.
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Doctors have been using this 10-year-old technology to examine soft tissues like organs and veins in living patients, but it hadn't been used on a mummy until recently. Working with a mummified human right hand dating back to 400 BCE in Egypt, which they borrowed from the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, the researchers fired up a phase-contrast CT scanner. It produced images with a resolution of 6 to 9 microns, giving a clear picture of the different layers of skin, individual cells in the connective tissue, and the blood vessels in the nail bed—all without damaging the artifact. Previously, researchers looking to study these same tissues in mummies would have needed to use a scalpel.

As Ars Technica reports, a phase-contrast CT scanner is similar in cost to the conventional machine. The study authors hope their work will lead to phase-contrast CT scanning becoming just as common in archaeology as regular CT scanning, potentially creating new research opportunities in mummies that will be discovered in the future and even in artifacts that have already been examined.

[h/t Gizmodo]

A 2.63-Carat Diamond Was Unearthed by a Grandmother at an Arkansas State Park

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iStock

Visitors to the Crater of Diamonds Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas clearly have an objective in mind: Excavate one of the diamonds lurking on or beneath the park's soil, the onetime site of a volcanic crater. If they do, it's theirs to keep.

Earlier this month, a 71-year-old grandmother from Colorado made the biggest discovery on park grounds of 2018: a 2.63-carat ice white diamond. And she did it in about 10 minutes.

The retiree, who asked media outlets not to identify her by name, visited Crater of Diamonds with her husband, son, and grandchildren. After briefly scraping away dirt, she saw the gem on the surface. The diamond was so large and clear—roughly the size of a pinto bean—that she assumed it was just a piece of glass. Further inspection by her family and park personnel revealed it was a diamond.

Park officials told press that employees frequently till the soil, which can loosen the gems and allow them to catch the reflection of the sun, making them easier to spot. Roughly 33,000 diamonds have been found by visitors since the park opened in 1972.

It's hard to know the exact value of the diamond. While there is a certain fluctuating value assigned to a carat, appraisers also look at three other "Cs": clarity, color, and cut. A two-carat diamond is often more than double the price of a one-carat diamond because the larger gems are more rare. But tourists have profited from their finds: In 2015, a visitor retrieved a 8.51-carat white diamond that was cut down to 4.6 carats by a jeweler and valued by the American Gem Society at $500,000.

[h/t WGN TV]

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