A wooden big toe that helped a priest's daughter walk about 3,000 years ago offers researchers insights about ancient medicine in Egypt.

Oldest Known Prosthetic Device

The ancient prosthesis that was discovered attached to a mummy in an Egyptian tomb is believed to be one of the oldest prosthetic devices ever found. Further examination likewise revealed that the toe is a sophisticated device.

The prosthetic that replaced an amputated right toe was found still attached to its user's skeleton. Researchers used computer tomography, X-rays, and microscopy to get a closer look at the ancient prosthetic device which has since been kept in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Made By Skilled Artisan

The researchers who studied the ancient prosthetic device found that it was more complex than believed.

A skilled artisan gave a lifelike appearance to the toe which provided aesthetics and mobility for its user during the Early Iron Age.

How the artificial toe was made does not just provide evidence to the skill of the artisan. It also offers clues to the personality and societal background of the person who used the wooden toe.

The quality of the artificial toe attests to the elite status of its user or her family. It also showed that its owner placed importance on the realistic and aesthetic appeal of her walking aid.

"The artificial toe from the early first millennium BC testifies to the skills of an artisan who was very familiar with the human physiognomy," the researchers said in a statement.

"The fact that the prosthesis was made in such a laborious and meticulous manner indicates that the owner valued a natural look, aesthetics and wearing comfort and that she was able to count on highly qualified specialists to provide this."

The wooden toe was designed to be used with sandals, which was the popular footwear of the time. A belt strap that helped secure the artificial toe to the right foot was made from plant fibers and was surprisingly robust.

"By using a sophisticated way of fixing the individual parts of the prosthesis to each other, the artificial limb had a balancing effect and gave, to some extent, a freedom of movement," said study researcher Andrea Loprieno-Gnirs of the University of Basel.

A kind of hardwood was used to make the prosthesis and researchers have narrowed down the possible materials used into two specimens. The researchers, however, are still conducting studies to determine the type of tools used to make the wooden toe and assist with the refitting that it needed.

Researchers said that scientific examinations showed at least four materials were used for manufacturing the device. They also found hints of two phases of refitting of the toe prosthesis and signs of longer use.

The wooden toe was found in a tomb at the graveyard hill of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna. The grave site was cut into an older burial chapel, which was built for the upper-class people who were close to the royal family.

The researchers said that no other prosthetic device as old as the wooden toe is known to show the same level of sophistication.

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