“The differences are really quite pronounced,” said Simon Mays, of English Heritage, who has measured 120 sets of women’s bones from the site. “Women at Wharram were much more muscular and bigger boned than their city counterparts. Whilst they were still doing the domestic chores and looking after children, they clearly also mucked in with the hard labour in the fields, building up their arm strength.”
Whether they used this to assert themselves in the running of the village is likely to remain conjecture, but the archaeology suggests that social roles were less divided than they later became. Grinding poverty, if nothing else, obliged the “gentler sex” to multi-task in the fashion of many modern women.
“The research underlines the way that the sexual division of labour was much less marked in rural areas than in the cities of the time,” said Mays. “The evidence from the Wharram bones speaks volumes, and reinforces that notion that life in the village was far from a rural idyll.”