University of Manchester researcher Jacky Finch says a three-part wood and leather artifact housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and a similar one on display in the British Museum, not only looked the part but also helped their toe-less owners walk like Egyptians, a university release said Monday.
The toes date from before 600 B.C., making them several hundred years older than the Roman Capula Leg, previously considered the earliest known practical prosthesis.
Finch, of Manchester's KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, recruited two volunteers whose right big toes had been lost, to test exact replicas of the Egyptian artificial toes.
"To be classed as true prosthetic devices any replacement must satisfy several criteria," Finch said. "The material must withstand bodily forces so that it does not snap or crack with use. Proportion is important and the appearance must be sufficiently lifelike as to be acceptable to both the wearer and those around them.
"But most importantly it must assist walking."
The volunteers were asked to wear the toes with replica Egyptian sandals and, while neither design was expected to perform exactly like a real big toe, one of the volunteers was able to walk well with both artificial toes.
"My findings strongly suggest that both of these designs were capable of functioning as replacements for the lost toe and so could indeed be classed as prosthetic devices," Finch said. "If that is the case then it would appear that the first glimmers of this branch of medicine should be firmly laid at the feet of the ancient Egyptians."
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