Osteoporosis is a prevalent condition in Norway, as evidenced by the fact that this country has the highest reported incidences of hip and distal forearm fractures. Because recent studies suggest a higher bone density in rural populations compared with urban ones, increased physical activity is believed to be an important factor in reducing fracture incidence. In the present investigation, 185 femoral necks from the Schreiner Collection in Oslo were measured by means of a bone-mass scanner. The bones, anthropological specimens ranging from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages, were separated into three groups: prehistoric (n = 36), Viking Age (n = 38) and medieval (n = 111). The medieval group was further separated into urban, rural and monastic populations. The examination showed that: (a) there was no significant difference at a 5% level in average bone mineral density (BMD) between the male and female material; (b) there was no significant difference in average BMD among the prehistoric, Viking Age, and medieval periods (P = 0.151); (c) there was no significant difference in average BMD between the rural and urban medieval material; (d) there was a significant difference in average BMD only between the monastic and the rural medieval material; (e) only the medieval material showed a significantly higher average BMD than that of today (P = 0.001). These findings may indicate that factors in addition to physical activity are important for normal BMD maintenance. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.