Ancient farm women in Central Europe labored so vigorously at grinding grain, tilling soil and other daily tasks that the women’s average upper-arm strength surpassed that of top female rowers today, a new study finds.

In the early stages of farming more than 7,000 years ago, women engaged in a wide array of physically intense activities that were crucial to village life but have gone largely unnoticed by scientists, conclude biological anthropologist Alison Macintosh of the University of Cambridge and colleagues.

“Women’s labor provided the driving force behind the expansion of agricultural economies in the past,” Macintosh says.

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