Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mummy toes

I noticed, when I looked at the photos of vintage prosthetics I linked to in yesterday's post, that #15 still had a foot in it! Then I remembered hearing about an ancient Egyptian outfitted with a replacement toe...

When it was discovered on a female mummy (2nd image), there was some question whether the woman's missing toe had been replaced during life to make it easier for her to walk or after death to make her mummy complete. The so-called "Cairo toe" toe (1st image) was made of wood and leather, with a carved toenail, and was found in Thebes in 2000. An even older toe, the "Greville Chester Great Toe," was made of cartonnage and was found in 1881, also in Thebes. The U.K.'s Manchester University tested the functionality of both the Cairo toe (which dates from 1069-664 B.C.) and the Greville Chester toe (which dates from 1295-664 B.C.) by having toeless volunteers wear a replica. Although both toes showed signs of wear, the Greville Chester toe may have been more cosmetic, whereas the Cairo toe actually flexed in 3 places. Andreas Nerlich, a German pathologist who helped excavate and studied the Cairo toe, explained, "This prosthesis is very different from any other type of limb replacement for dead bodies. The big toe normally bears 40 percent of the weight when standing. In present days, loss can be compensated by adequate shoes. Egyptians had no shoes; they wore sandals. These were not able to compensate for the loss of a big toe." The stump of the toe in question had healed, indicating that the digit had been lost during life and also suggesting that the surgical skills of the healer-priests in ancient Egypt were more skilled than previously believed, with the ability to perform simple amputations and to cauterize the wounds to stanch the bloodflow and prevent infection.

The results of the Manchester study have apparently not yet been published, so it is unproven whether the Cairo toe - which predates the bronze Roman Capua leg (which dates from 300 B.C.) by hundreds of years - deserves to claim the title of the earliest known prosthesis. One Egyptian toe mystery has been solved, however. The left big toe of Pharaoh Akhenaten, which had been missing for 50 years, was rediscovered in a Liverpool University storeroom and reunited with the rest of the royal mummy in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Source: Nerlich, Andreas G. Albert Zink, Ulrike Szeimies, and Hjalmar G. Hagedorn. "Ancient Egyptian prosthesis of the big toe." In The Lancet, Vol. 356, Issue 9248 (12/23/2000).

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