Ancient Artificial Toes Are First Prosthetics
October 2, 2012

Ancient Egyptian Artificial Toes Look To Be World’s First Prosthetic

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Researchers determined that ancient Egyptian artificial toes may have had more than just cosmetic purposes, but may actually have been the world's first prosthetic body parts.

Archaeologists found a three-part wood and leather toe dating from between 950 to 710 BC on a female mummy buried in Luxor, Egypt. They also found a toe made up of a papier maché mixture called cartonnage, dating back to before before 600 BC.

The University of Manchester researcher Dr. Jacky Finch set out to determine whether the toes were for cosmetic purposes or were used more as tools to help their owners walk.

Ancient Egyptians would create false body parts for burial purposes, but several experts believed that these objects had more than that in mind by their creator.

"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," Finch said in a statement.

He recruited two volunteers who were both missing their right big toe and replicated the designs of the ancient toes but with alterations to fit each person's foot.

Tests were carried out at the Gait Laboratory at Salford University's Center for Rehabilitation and Human Performance Research, where cameras and programs were able to help track movements.

The volunteers were asked to walk along a 30-foot walkway barefoot, in their own shoes, and then while wearing the replicas with and without similar ancient Egyptians sandals.

Their movements were tracked using 10 special cameras and the pressure of their footsteps were measured using a special mat. The 10 best walking trials were recorded for each foot, using their normal left foot as the control.

The camera footage revealed that when wearing the sandals with the cartonnage replica, one volunteer was able to achieve 87% of the flexion achieved by their normal left toe. The three-part wood and leather design produced nearly 78%.

Finch also found that the ability to push off using the prosthetic toe was not as good when the volunteer was not wearing the sandals.

The second volunteer produced between 60 to 63% flexion wearing the replicas with or without the sandals.

When wearing the replicas, the pressure measurements showed that both volunteers had no overly high pressure points, indicating that the false toes were not causing any undue discomfort or possible tissue damage. However, when the participants wore just the replica sandals without the toes, the pressure being applied under the foot rose

“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," Finch said in the statement. "They could of course remained (sic) 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 filled out questionnaires about how they felt when doing the trials in the Gait Laboratory. Despite having performed well, the comfort scores for the cartonnage replica were disappointing, although it was felt to be an excellent cosmetic replacement.

The volunteers found the three-part wooden and leather toe were extremely comfortable, with one volunteer commenting that he could get used to walking in it with time.

“It was very encouraging that both volunteers were able to walk wearing the replicas," Finch said. "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 artifacts had some intended prosthetic function."

The findings of the study were published in the Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics.