History Files


Ancient Egypt

Mummy Body Parts

Channel 4 News/PA News/BBC News, 30 July 2007

A mummy dubbed "Toe-tankhamun" by a Manchester University team may have walked like an Egyptian using the earliest example of a working false body part.

Scientists believe the wood and leather big toe attached to the Egyptian mummy's right foot was more than just for show.

If proven to be functional, it would predate the earliest known prosthesis - an artificial leg from 300 BC - by several hundred years.

The Roman Capua Leg, made of bronze, was held at the Royal College of Surgeons in London but was destroyed by Luftwaffe bombs during the Second World War.

The Manchester researchers plan to subject the ancient artificial digit to a series of tests, using up to four volunteers with missing big toes.

They will be asked to put the toe through its paces by wearing an exact replica of the artefact housed at the Cairo Museum.

A model of a second false Egyptian big toe which is on display at the British Museum, with no mummy attached, will also be worn by the volunteers.

This artefact, from between 1295 and 664 BC, is made from cartonnage, a kind of papier-mâché made from linen, glue and plaster.

Like the Cairo toe, this too shows signs of wear, suggesting that it was worn by its owner in life and not simply attached to the foot during mummification for religious or ritualistic reasons.

However, unlike the Cairo toe, it does not bend, suggesting it may have been more cosmetic.

Study leader Jacky Finch, from the University of Manchester's KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, said: "The Cairo toe dates from between 1069 and 664 BC, so if we can prove that one or both [of the toes] were functional then we will have pushed back prosthetic medicine by as much as 700 years.

"The Cairo toe is the most likely to be functional as it is articulated and shows signs of wear. It is still attached to the foot of the mummy of a female between fifty and sixty years of age. The amputation site is also well healed."

Little is known about the woman, nicknamed "Toe-tankhamun" by scientists, other than the fact she was the wife of a high priest.

Her mummy was found in a tomb near the ancient city of Thebes, present day Luxor, in December 2000.

The Cairo toe is on display at the Cairo Museum in Egypt.



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