Monday, July 30, 2007

World’s oldest prosthesis?

London: An artificial big toe attached to the foot of an Egyptian mummy could be the world’s oldest prosthetic body part, British researchers said Friday.

The fake toe, which is made of wood and leather and is currently on display at the Cairo Museum in Egypt, dates from between 1000 and 600 BC.

Researchers at Manchester University in north-west England hope to prove it was used to help someone who had lost their original big toe to walk.

If they do, it could mean that prosthetic body parts were in use up to 700 years earlier than was previously thought.

The oldest known prosthesis is a bronze Roman leg, dating from about 300 BC, which was kept at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during a German bombing raid in the Second World War.

A second false big toe, which is on display at the British Museum, will also be tested by scientists in Manchester.

“If either one is functional, it may be interesting to manufacture it with modern materials and trial it for use on people with missing toes,” said Jacky Finch, a researcher working on the study.

She added that the Cairo toe is the most likely to have been a prosthesis, because it shows signs of wear and is attached to a “well-healed” amputation site.

The London toe, by contrast, does not bend and is, therefore, more likely to have been cosmetic, she said.

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