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World's Oldest Prosthetics Show Even Primitive societies Used Prosthetics
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World's Oldest Prosthetics Show Even Primitive societies Used Prosthetics

In a discovery that is just as good for realistic content inside historical or fantasy-based virtual environments as it is for showcasing the history of prosthetics, Dr Jacky Finch of the University of Manchester has analysed two ancient prosthetics found in burial sites.

Both the three part wood and leather toe dating from between 950 to 710 BC found on a female mummy buried near Luxor in Egypt, and the Greville Chester artificial toe from before 600 BC and made of cartonnage (a sort of papier maché mixture made using linen, glue and plaster) had features that you would not expect from burial prosthetics – namely signs of everyday wear and tear, which could only have come about from them being used in the wearer's daily lives.

Both are significantly more advanced than the 'peg leg' that we tend to think of when remembering prosthetics of old, and both were engineered to look as realistic as possible with the materials available at the time.

Dr Finch had the following to say about the artifacts: “Several experts have examined these objects and had suggested that they were the earliest prosthetic devices in existence. 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. 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.”

Dr Finch, who is based in the Faculty of Life Sciences’ KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, recruited two volunteers who were both missing their right big toe. Design replicas of the ancient toes were made to fit each volunteer along with replica leather ancient Egyptian style sandals.

A replica of the three part wood and leather toe with MoCap markers for tracking gait


The tests were carried out at the Gait Laboratory at Salford University’s Centre for Rehabilitation and Human Performance Research. Each volunteer was asked to walk on a 10 metre walkway bare foot, in their own shoes and wearing the replicas with and without the sandals. Their movement was tracked using 10 special cameras and the pressure of their footsteps was measured using a special mat. The 10 best walking trials were recorded for each foot, using their normal left foot as the control.

It was surprising how well both volunteers were able to walk using these devices although one volunteer performed much better than the other. The camera footage revealed that when wearing the sandals with the cartonnage replica, one of the volunteers achieved 87% of the flexion achieved by their normal left toe. The three part wood and leather design producing nearly 78%. Interestingly the ability to push off using the prosthetic toe was not as good when this volunteer wasn’t wearing the sandals. The second volunteer was still able to produce between 60-63% flexion wearing the replicas with or without the sandals.

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

Dr Finch says: “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. They could of course 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.”

Assessing the volunteers’ experience Dr Finch said: “It was very encouraging that both volunteers were able to walk wearing the replicas. 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 artefacts had some intended prosthetic function.

It also provides previously unknown data to fill in the gaps in a more complete simulation of ancient life. Prosthetics are not a new thing, and they have been used to conceal battle damage since time immemorial.

References

Egyptian Toes Likely to be the World’s Oldest Prosthetics

Staff Comments

 


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