In some welcome news, scientists say they have found the world's earliest prosthetic body parts.
According to the experts, who tested replicas on volunteers, two artificial big toes - one found attached to the foot of an ancient Egyptian mummy, may have been used as artificial body parts in earlier times.
AdvertisementUniversity of Manchester researcher, Dr Jacky Finch, has shown that a three-part wood and leather artefact housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, along with a second one, the Greville Chester artificial toe on display in the British Museum, not only looked the part but also helped their toeless owners walk like Egyptians.
The toes date from before 600BC, predating what was hitherto thought to be the earliest known practical prosthesis - the Roman Capula Leg - by several hundred years.
Finch, who is based in the University of Manchester's KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, recruited two volunteers whose right big toe had been lost in order to test exact replicas of the artificial toes in the Gait Laboratory at Salford University's Centre for Rehabilitation and Human Performance Research.
The volunteers were asked to wear the toes with replica Egyptian sandals and, while neither design was expected to perform exactly like a real big toe, one of the volunteers was able to walk extremely well with both artificial toes. No significant elevation in pressure under the foot was recorded for either toe, although both volunteers said they found the Cairo toe particularly comfortable.
The Greville Chester toe - made from cartonnage, a sort of papier maché made using linen, glue and plaster - shows considerable signs of wear, while the Cairo toe has certain features, such as a simple hinge, a chamfered front edge and a flattened underside.
Finch said: "My findings strongly suggest that both of these designs were capable of functioning as replacements for the lost toe and so could indeed be classed as prosthetic devices. If that is the case then it would appear that the first glimmers of this branch of medicine should be firmly laid at the feet of the ancient Egyptians."
The study has been published in the Lancet.
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