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Ancient Egypt

Mummy Body Parts

Edited from 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 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.



Text copyright © Channel 4 News, BBC News, and affiliates. Reproduction is made on a 'fair use' basis for the purpose of disseminating relevant information to a specific audience. No breach of copyright is intended or inferred.