The world's oldest prosthetic body parts are toes! Researchers have long suspected that two artificial toes are the world's oldest, and a new study proves this theory. Volunteers without a big toe showed how the prosthetic would have made walking around in ancient Egyptian sandals easier, and they were not just used in burial or other non-practical ways.
The Greville Chester toe is at the British Museum and dates back before 600 B.C. and is made of cartonnage, a type of ancient paper mache- in those times a mixture of linen, animal glue, and tinted plaster. The other toe, the leather and wood Cairo toe, dates between 950 B.C. and 710 B.C. and was found on a female mummy near Luxor. It is currently located at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
"Several experts have examined these objects and had suggested that they were the earliest prosthetic devices in existence. There are many instances of ancient Egyptians creating false body parts for burial but the wear plus the design both suggest they were used by people to help them walk," said lead researcher Jacky Finch of the University of Manchester.
To prove her theory, Finch recruited two volunteers who were both missing their big right toe and fitted them with replicas of the the fake toes and Egyptian sandals. The volunteers walked 33 feet barefoot, with the shoes on, and then with the replicate toes with and without the sandals. Finch recorded their movements and measured the pressure of their footsteps with a special mat.
The fake toe allowed one of the volunteers 87 percent of the flexion of the intact left toe when wearing the replicas with the sandals. However, the volunteer's ability to push off the ground was diminished without the sandals. The second volunteer got between 60 and 63 percent flexion wearing the replica with and without the sandals.
The toes did not cause any high pressure points, leading researchers to believe the original prosthetics were quite comfortable. Wearing the sandals without the fake toes did however cause pressure under the foot to rise sharply. "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 a statement.
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