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Prehistoric women had stronger arms than today's elite rowers, scientists at Cambridge University have discovered.

It means the women who won the Boat Race for Cambridge this year, achieving a record time after rowing 120km a week in training, could not compete with their Neolithic ancestors.

The evidence on how tough women in early farming communities had to be comes from researchers who found their arm bones were up to 16% stronger than those of modern female rowers and 30% stronger than those of ordinary female students.

Neolithic women are believed to have got their strength from up to five hours a day of grinding grain between two large stones called a saddle quern.

Lead scientist Dr Alison Macintosh, from the department of archaeology, said: “A major activity in early agriculture was converting grain into flour, and this was likely performed by women. 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.”

Their strength was discovered by comparing scans of prehistoric bones with those of modern rowers and ordinary women. The study is published in the journal Science Advances