Human bones are remarkably plastic and respond surprisingly quickly to change. Put under stress through physical exertion — such as long-distance walking or running — they gain in strength as the fibres are added or redistributed according to where strains are highest. The ability of bone to adapt to loading is shown by analysis of the skeletons of modern athletes, whose bones show remarkably rapid adaptation to both the intensity and direction of strains.
Because the structure of human bones can inform us about the lifestyles of the individuals they belong to, they can provide valuable clues for biological anthropologists looking at past cultures. Research by Alison Macintosh, a PhD candidate in Cambridge University’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, shows that after the emergence of agriculture in Central Europe from around 5300 BC, the bones of those living in the fertile soils of the Danube river valley became progressively less strong, pointing to a decline in mobility and loading.
Macintosh will present some of her results at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Calgary, Alberta on 8-12 April, 2014. She will show that mobility and lower limb loading in male agriculturalists declined progressively and consistently through time and were more significantly affected by culture change in Central Europe than they were in females. More here From athletes to couch potatoes: Humans through 6,000 years of farming