Going ice-skating this winter? If so, you will be participating in the oldest known human powered means of transport. But hopefully you’ll be using more updated equipment then our ancient forebears enjoyed. Archaeological evidence shows that bone skates (skates made of animal bones) are the oldest human powered means of transport, dating back to 3000 BC. Most likely when an ancient Finn glided along on his rugged homemade bone skates, he never imagined his clever innovation was destined to evolve into a precise, competitive winter sport and art-form beloved the world over.
In a recent paper, published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Dr Formenti and Professor Minetti offer substantial evidence supporting the hypothesis that the birth of ice skating took place in Southern Finland, where the number of lakes within 100 square kilometers is the highest in the world. Formenti says that ice-skating was likely developed simply to conserve precious energy during a time when food and daylight were scarce commodities.
But isn't it possible that humans developed skating also because it's good old-fashioned fun? After all, it must have gotten pretty boring during those bleak northern winters. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that northern European humans back in 3000 BC were also looking for a good time? After all, archeologists have unearthed an ancient bowling alley in Egypt, for example. Formenti is convinced, however, that bone skates were devised for a more practical purpose.
He tells The Daily Galaxy that, “I find it hard to believe that ice skates were made for fun. Ancient populations in Africa played games thousand of years ago, but they lived in conditions which were very different, the climate was warm and food was not a major issue at any time throughout the year. Not by chance people inhabited warm areas in the world earlier than the cold ones. In Northern European countries, winter lasted for about four months, and there are only a few hours of light per day. It was a challenge to get around, and stocking up food for four months was quite difficult. I agree that our ancestors could look for some fun, but not in these circumstances.”
In that case, ice skating for the ancients would have been originally devised as a more efficient means of getting from point A to point B in an effort to survive harsh winters. Corresponding with The Daily Galaxy, Formenti noted that our ancient human forbears have always been evolving ways to move more efficiently regardless of where they lived.
“Perhaps it is not by chance that Kenyan women and Nepalese porters walk in a very efficient way compared to European mountaineers,” he noted.
Formenti and Minetti did experiments on an ice rink by the Alps, where they measured the energy consumption of people skating on bones. Through mathematical models and computer simulations of 240 ten-kilometer journeys, their research shows that in winter the use of bone skates would have limited the energy requirements of Finnish people by a significant 10%, whereas the advantage given by the use of skates in other North European countries would be only about 1%. This research suggests that ancient Finland would have been the most practical birthplace of the now popular winter sport.
Posted by Rebecca Sato
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