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Medieval countrywomen show their North Yorkshire muscle

Artist's impression of Wharram Percy in its heyday by Stephen Conlin
Women at Wharram Percy were more muscular than their city counterparts

Studies of skeletons from Wharram Percy show that medieval peasant women were muscular and tough.

English Heritage looked at almost 120 female skeletons from the site near Malton, which is the best preserved of the country's 3500 deserted villages.

Between 1950 and 1990 it was the scene of the longest running dig in British archaeological history.

New research compared the well preserved skeletal remains found there with others from adult females unearthed at a medieval burial site in York's Fishergate.

It turns out that the women from Wharram Percy, who lived between the 11th and 14th centuries, were considerably stronger than their city dwelling sisters according to English Heritage human skeletal biologist, Simon Mays:

Wharram Percy. Photo: Tony Bartholomew
Wharram Percy is the best preserved deserted village in the UK

"The differences were quite pronounced. Women at Wharram were much more muscular and bigger boned than their city counterparts.

"While they were still doing the domestic chores and looking after children, as in York, they clearly also mucked in with the hard labour in the fields, building up their arm strength."

The findings were discovered by X-raying upper arm bones from the two burial locations.

Those from Wharram had a greater diameter and thicker walls, a result of more bone being deposited as muscles are worked harder and gain mass.

Simon Mays adds "The Wharram bones also show a lot of osteoarthritis, brought about by a life of hard work and poor diet.

"Whilst many women in York were engaged in domestic service or were effectively housewives, their country cousins coped with harsher economic realities."

Life in Wharram Percy would have been very hard with widespread disease, infant mortality and malnutrition.

Following the Black Death in the 14th century, the population dwindled and eventually the village was abandoned altogether.

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