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 in 2007 believed 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 enemy bombing during the
Second World War.
The Manchester researchers planned to subject the
ancient artificial digit to a series of tests, using up to four
volunteers with missing big toes. They would 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
was on display at the British Museum, with no mummy attached, was
also to be worn by the volunteers. This artefact, which was dated
between 1295 BC and 664 BC, is made from cartonnage, a kind of
papier-mâché made from linen, glue and plaster.
Like the Cairo toe, this too showed 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 did not
bend, suggesting that it may have been more cosmetic.
Study leader Jacky Finch, from the University of
Manchester's KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, stated that the
Cairo toe could be dated to between 1069 BC and 664 BC, so if it
could be proven that one or both of the toes were functional then
the earliest use of prosthetic medicine would have been pushed back
by as much as seven hundred years.
The Cairo toe was the most likely to be functional
as it was articulated and showed signs of wear. It was still attached
to the foot of the mummy of a female between fifty and sixty years of
age. The amputation site was 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 was on
display at the Cairo Museum in Egypt.