Two artificial toes from ancient Egyptian tombs are believed to be the world’s oldest prostheses, according to a study by University of Manchester researcher Jacky Finch just published in the Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics (JPO). (A brief paper appeared in The Lancet last year, but it did not contain the data available in the JPO article.)
One toe, discovered in 1881 and housed in the British Museum, is made of cartonnage (a papier-mache like material, formed with plaster, linen and glue) and dates before 600 BC. The other toe, found in 2000 and housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, is made of wood and leather and dates from between 950 to 710 BC.
By testing out replicas of these toes on two present-day volunteers (each of whom was missing their right big toe) Finch concluded that they were not mere adornments for the afterlife, but functioning assistive devices. (Replicas of ancient Egyptian sandals were also used in the experiment.)
As reported in Heritage Daily,
The tests were carried out at the Gait Laboratory at Salford University’s Centre for Rehabilitation and Human Performance Research. Each volunteer was asked to walk on a 10 metre walkway bare foot, in their own shoes and wearing the replicas with and without the sandals. Their movement was tracked using 10 special cameras and the pressure of their footsteps was measured using a special mat. The 10 best walking trials were recorded for each foot, using their normal left foot as the control.
It was surprising how well both volunteers were able to walk using these devices although one volunteer performed much better than the other. The camera footage revealed that when wearing the sandals with the cartonnage replica, one of the volunteers achieved 87% of the flexion achieved by their normal left toe. The three part wood and leather design producing nearly 78%. Interestingly the ability to push off using the prosthetic toe was not as good when this volunteer wasn’t wearing the sandals. The second volunteer was still able to produce between 60-63% flexion wearing the replicas with or without the sandals.
via Archaeology News : Egyptian toe tests show they’re likely to be the world’s oldest prosthetics | Heritage Daily – Latest Archaeology News and Archaeological Press Releases : Archaeology Press Releases.