Scientists at Britain's University of Manchester examined a three-part, wood-and-leather toe dating from between 950 to 710 B.C. found on a female mummy buried in Egypt and a later artificial toe from before 600 B.C. to determine if they could have been practical tools to help their owners to walk.
"Several experts have examined these objects and had suggested that they were the earliest prosthetic devices in existence," researcher Jacky Finch said in a Manchester release. "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."
In a test, two volunteers who were both missing their right big toe wore design replicas of the ancient toes along with replicas of ancient leather Egyptian style sandals.
Their movement while walking was tracked using special cameras and the pressure of their footsteps was measured using a special mat.
"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. "They could of course have 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."