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Last Updated: Monday, 24 December 2007, 13:47 GMT
Skating traced back 4,000 years
A bone skate used in the research
There would have been no straps on the original bone-skates
The world's first skaters are likely to have taken to the ice about 4,000 years ago on the frozen lakes of Finland, according to a UK-based research team.

They seem to have used skates made out of horse bones, Dr Federico Formenti of Oxford University, co-author of a paper on the subject, told the BBC.

His team tested replicas of bone-skates from the British Museum over several years at an Alpine location.

He said the skates were fun to use and compared well with modern equivalents.

"From our study it seems that [the skating] happened particularly in the southern area of Finland where there are many small lakes," Dr Formenti told BBC Radio 4's You And Yours programme.

Instead of walking all the way around the lake, he said, people found it much easier to travel between towns by skating or walking across the ice.

Ice-skater on rink outside London's Natural History Museum, 12 December
London's first ice rink dates back to a site in Chelsea in 1876

These early skaters would, he believes, stand on two horse bones and propel themselves with a stick.

Asked by the BBC News website what bone-skating is like, Dr Formenti says from personal experience that it is "quite good fun".

The bones have very low friction compared to modern metal blades because of the residual fat on the bones, he points out.

One thing Finland's ice-borne ancestors were probably not, however, is fast: the research team attained an average speed of about 8km/h (5mph) compared to modern speed-skaters whizzing by at speeds of up to 60km/h (37).

Dr Formenti's paper, co-authored by Prof Alberto Minetti, appears in the Linnean Society of London's Biological Journal.


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