Artificial toes crafted in ancient Egypt are likely to be the world's first prosthetic body parts, according to a British researcher.
Jacky Finch, a researcher at the University of Manchester, performed scientific tests based on two artificial big toes discovered in Egypt. One was made of cartonnage, a sort of papier maché mixture made using linen, glue and plaster, and dates back to before 600 B.C. The other, dating from between 950 to 710 B.C., is a three-piece device made of wood and leather found on a mummy buried near Luxor.
'Our research suggests that wearing these false toes made walking in a sandal more comfortable.'—Jacky Finch, University of Manchester
"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," Finch said in a statement.
To test whether the ancient toes could have been used as prosthetic devices, Finch created replicas and fitted them onto two volunteers who were both missing their right big toe. She also fabricated copies of ancient Egyptian-style leather sandals.
Each volunteer was asked to walk along a 10-metre walkway in different footwear configurations: bare foot, in their own shoes and wearing the toe replicas both with and without the sandals. Their movements were tracked using cameras and the pressure of their footsteps was measured using a special mat.
More efficient movements
The results of the tests showed that the volunteers did walk more efficiently with the artificial toes. When wearing the sandals along with the cartonnage replica, one volunteer achieved 87 per cent of the movement of their normal left toe. When wearing the wood and leather design, they were able to achieve nearly 78 per cent of the movement.
The findings, published in the latest issue of Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics, suggest that the ancient toes were likely used for more than cosmetic purposes.
Interestingly, the ability to push off the prosthetic toe was not as good when the volunteer wasn't wearing the sandals.
"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," said Finch.
"They could of course [have] 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."
The volunteers also rated their experience wearing the artificial toes and found the wood and leather version to be "extremely comfortable."
Before the discovery of the ancient toes, the oldest known prosthetic device was a bronze and wooden leg found in a Roman burial in Capua, Italy, that dates back to 300 B.C.