The ancient Egyptians knew much about prosthetic foot technology and produced functioning toe prostheses
for amputated limbs and many of these impressive achievements were made more than 2500 years ago.
Physicians in the kingdom of the pharaohs perfomed other surgical procedures that also went well.
An ancient nine-inch metal screw found in the 2600-year-old mummy of an Egyptian priest Usermontu's
leg became a worldwide sensation.
The discovery was made in 1996.
Dr. Wilfred Griggs, Egyptologist and a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University was doing research
on mummy DNA in the six resident mummies on display in the Museum, when an X-ray revealed a metal screw near the
kneecap of Usermontu. ("DNA Research Conducted on Egyptian Museum Mummies," Rosicrucian Digest, 1995)
The metal screw, connecting the mummy's thigh and lower leg, is now attracting worldwide attention
because it is believed to be the first known example of ancient limb reattachment. This particular
mummy was acquired by the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in 1971.
According to Dr Griggs Griggs, the pin was probably inserted at the time of burial, and most likely by a
mortician and not a physician
And according to Dr. Richard Jackson, orthopedic surgeon for BYU's athletic team, the pin was
made with a lot of biomechanical things we still use to make sure we get good fixation in stabilizing bone!
Now, the results of scientific tests using replicas of two ancient Egyptian artificial toes,
including one that was found on the foot of a mummy, suggest that they’re likely to be the world’s first prosthetic body parts.
Prosthetic toe from ancient Egypt. Credits: Jon Bodsworth
The University of Manchester researcher Dr Jacky Finch wanted to find out if a three part
wood and leather toe dating from between 950 to 710 BC found on a female mummy buried near Luxor in Egypt, and the
Greville Chester artificial toe from before 600 BC and made of cartonnage (a sort of papier maché mixture made using linen,
glue and plaster), could be used as practical tools to help their owners to walk.
Both display significant signs of wear and their design features also suggest they may have been more than cosmetic
“Several experts have examined these objects and had suggested that they were the earliest prosthetic devices
There are many instances of the ancient Egyptians creating false body parts for burial but the wear plus their
design both suggest they were used by people to help them to walk.
To try to prove this has been a complex and challenging process involving experts in not only Egyptian burial practices
but also in prosthetic design and in computerized gait assessment,” Dr Finch says.
An ancient Egyptian false toe found on a female mummy buried near Luxor
The strapping in the foreground bound it onto her foot. Credits: Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt
Dr Finch, who is based in the Faculty of Life Sciences’ KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, recruited two volunteers who
were both missing their right big toe. Design replicas of the ancient toes were made to fit each volunteer along with replica
leather ancient Egyptian style sandals.
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
Credits: Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt
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.
Credits: The University of Manchester
When wearing the replicas the pressure measurements showed that for both volunteers there were no overly high pressure points.
This indicated that the false toes were not causing any undue discomfort or possible tissue damage.
However, when the volunteers wore just the replica sandals without the false toes the pressure being applied under the foot rose sharply.
Greville Chester toe in the British Museum, London.J.L. Finch with kind permission of the British Museum, London, UK
“The pressure data tells us that it would have been very difficult for an ancient Egyptian missing a big toe to walk normally wearing traditional
sandals. They could of course remained bare foot or perhaps have worn some sort of sock or boot over the false toe, but our research suggests that
wearing these false toes made walking in a sandal more comfortable,” Dr Finch says.
Alongside the test data Dr Finch also asked her volunteers to fill in a questionnaire about how they felt when doing the trials in the
gait laboratory. Despite it having performed well the comfort scores for the cartonnage replica were disappointing although it was felt
to be an excellent cosmetic replacement.
Describing the performance of the three part wooden and leather toe both volunteers found this
one to be extremely comfortable, scoring it highly, one volunteer commenting that with time he could get used to walking in it.
“It was very encouraging that both volunteers were able to walk wearing the replicas. Now that we have the gait analysis data
and volunteer feedback alongside the obvious signs of wear we can provide a more convincing argument that the original artefacts
had some intended prosthetic function," Dr Finch stated.
The findings from this study, which have been published in full in the Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics, means the earliest known prosthetic is now more likely to come from ancient Egypt. The three part example pre-dates by some 400 years what is currently thought to be the oldest, although untested, prosthetic device. This is a bronze and wooden leg that was found in a Roman burial in Capua, Southern Italy. That has been dated to 300 BC although only a replica now remains as the original was destroyed in a bombing raid over London during the war.
Finch, J. et al. Biomechanical Assessment of Two Artificial Big Toe Restorations From Ancient Egypt and Their Significance to the History of Prosthetics.
JPO Journal of Prosthetics & Orthotics doi:10.1097/JPO.0b013e31826f4652
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