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

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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]

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Drought Reveals Ancient Sites in Scotland That Can Only Be Spotted From the Air
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Typically rainy Scotland is in the middle of an unusually dry summer—and local archaeologists are taking advantage of it. As the BBC reports, the drought has revealed ancient sites, including Roman camps and Iron Age graves, that have been hidden by farm soil for years.

Historic Environment Scotland has been conducting aerial surveys of the country's landscape since the 1930s, but it's in seasons like this, when the crops recede during dry weather, that the buried remains of ancient structures are easiest to spot. Conditions this summer have been the best since 1976 for documenting archaeological sites from the sky.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

The crescent-shaped crop mark in the photo above indicates a souterrain, or underground passageway, that was built in the Scottish Borders during the Iron Age. The surveyors also found remains of a Roman temporary camp, marked by straight lines in the landscape, built in modern-day Lyne—an area south of Edinburgh already known to have housed a complex of Roman camps and forts.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

In the image below you'll see four small ditches—three circles and one square—that were likely used as burial sites during the Iron Age. When crops are planted over an ancient ditch, they have more water and nutrients to feed on, which helps them grow taller and greener. Such crops are especially visible during a drought when the surrounding vegetation is sparse and brown.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

Historic Environment Scotland has a team of aerial surveyors trained to spot the clues: To date, they've discovered more than 9000 archaeological sites from the air. HSE plans to continue scoping out new areas of interest as long as the dry spell lasts.

It's not just in Scotland that long-hidden settlements are coming to light: similar aerial surveys in Wales are finding them too.

[h/t BBC]

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An Ancient Sarcophagus Was Found in Egypt—And It's Never Been Opened
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In what could be the plot of the next summer blockbuster, a sealed sarcophagus has been found 16 feet underground in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, Science Alert reports. It’s still unknown who or what might be lying inside the nondescript black granite casket, but what’s clear is that it hasn’t been opened since it was closed more than 2000 years ago.

Ayman Ashmawy, head of the government’s Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector, observed “a layer of mortar between the lid and the body of the sarcophagus,” indicating it hadn't been opened, according to a Ministry of Antiquities Facebook post. Considering that many ancient tombs in Egypt have been looted over the years, an untouched sarcophagus is quite a rare find.

The sarcophagus was discovered when a site in the Sidi Gaber district, dating back to the Ptolemaic Dynasty (305-30 BCE), was inspected before construction of a building began. The casket is 104.3 inches long and 65 inches wide, making it the largest of its kind ever discovered in Alexandria. In addition, an alabaster statue of a man’s head was found in the same tomb, and some have speculated that it might depict whoever is sealed inside the sarcophagus. Live Science suggested that archaeologists may opt to inspect its contents using X-rays or computed tomography scans to prevent damage to the artifact.

Although it remains a mystery for now, Twitter has a few theories about who might be lying inside:

[h/t Science Alert]

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