The first prosthetic attatchment

ResearchBlogging.orgThe Ancient Egyptians kept surprisingly detailed medical records of surprisingly complex treatments, including surgeries. One Papyrus, for example, details how they knew damage to the brain could alter behaviour.

Yet none of this creates a precedent for a prosthetic attachment. No scroll explains how to carve a replacement hand or create a peg leg. Nonetheless, it seems the Egyptians still did this.

A female mummy, aged 40-60, has a wooden big toe to replace one lost at some point in life. This might not be too remarkable by itself, we all know the Egyptians were fans of preserving the dead. Might “fixing” the toe after death merely be an extension of the mummification process?

They even carved a toenail.

As you might guess by the title and introduction the answer is no. This toe was added before death. This leads to one of the more surprising revelations about the toe – it was functional.

It might be easy to imagine the Egyptians crafting a toe to make someone look normal, but this one comes with wear marks on the underside indicating it was actually used to walk on. Further, the other bones of the foot don’t show signs of over-development to compensate for the loss of the big toe.

No, this was a functional prosthetic appendage that would’ve enabled the woman to move without much hindrance. Even today, for all our advanced technology, we cannot achieve much more.

The wear marks on the back of the toe

The mummy herself dates to between 500-1000 BC, based on the tomb she was found in, and her story does not end with the prosthetic big toe. She was also chopped up into several pieces.

Perhaps someone was jealous of the fact she was the first “bionic” woman.

Nerlich AG, Zink A, Szeimies U, & Hagedorn HG (2000). Ancient Egyptian prosthesis of the big toe. Lancet, 356 (9248), 2176-9 PMID: 11191558


Yes, I know this is probably old news to some people and not really related to human evolution but I still found it interesting so I thought I’d share it. That’s one of the great things about evoanth – one minute you’re looking at biology, the next archaeology. One moment it’s psychology the next history of medicine!

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