Modern day athletes might think they’re hot stuff as they setting new records every day, but a recent study suggestions that the average early farmer more than 7,000 years ago had about the same fitness level as today’s cross-country student.
“Even our most highly trained athletes pale in comparison to these ancestors of ours,” Dr. Colin Shaw with Cambridge University told Outside Online. “We’re certainly weaker than we used to be.”
The research led by Alison Macintosh, a Ph.D. candidate at Cambridge University, analyzed the bones of human ancestors and how they changed over the years, making connections as to why such adaptations could have occurred.
Why bones? A university news release about the research explained that bones respond quickly to behavioral change, making it possible for scientists to analyze the intensity and strains put on limbs and hypothesize activity level and type.
Macintosh compared observations of bones from those living in the Danube river valley, which includes several countries in Central Europe, after farming emerged as a regular practice to students at Cambridge University.
“Long-term biomechanical analyses of bones following the transition to farming in Central Europe haven’t been carried out. But elsewhere in the world they show regional variability in trends. Sometimes mobility increases, sometimes it declines, depending on culture and environmental context. After the transition to farming, cultural change was prolonged and its pace was rapid. My research in Central Europe explores whether – and how – this long-term pressure continued to drive adaptation in bones,” Macintosh said.
As farming became more mainstream and technologies emerged to improve it, Macintosh saw bones becoming less strong, especially in men.
“My results suggest that, following the transition to agriculture in Central Europe, males were more affected than females by cultural and technological changes that reduced the need for long-distance travel or heavy physical work,” Macintosh said. “This also means that, as people began to specialize in tasks other than just farming and food production, such as metalworking, fewer people were regularly doing tasks that were very strenuous on their legs.”
“The overall result is a reduction in mobility of the population as a whole, accompanied by a reduction in the strength of the lower limb bones,” Macintosh added.
Macintoch’s findings were presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Canada earlier this month.
(H/T: Daily Mail)
Front page image via Shutterstock.
This story has been updated.