The Origin of the Medical Art of Prosthetics
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The Origin of the Medical Art of Prosthetics

The medical art of prosthetics may very well not be a recent medical science but a practice used amongst many civilizations for thousands of years.

It’s easy to believe that prosthetics are a relatively new medical science because of the amount of technology that is involved with limb replacement.  However, this is not the case.  In fact, the use of prosthetics (specifically for limb replacement) has been around for thousands of years and is continuously being perfected thanks to modern science and medicine.  Proof of the use of prosthetics throughout history is commonly seen in children’s stories especially ones involving sailors and pirates.  For example, the tales of Moby Dick and Peter Pan both have unique characters that have had a limb replaced with either a hook or a wooden peg in order to continue on with daily life and its tasks. 

The earliest recorded account of the use of prosthetics comes from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus.  Herodotus tells a tale of a Persian soldier by the name of Hegistratus who, in order to escape his captives, cut off his own foot only to replace it later with a wooden one.  Another recorded account of an early use of a prosthetic comes from the ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder.  Pliny spoke of an ancient Roman general who lost his arm while spreading the culture of Rome throughout the rest of the world.  In order to return to the battlefield however, the Roman general had a customized iron arm placed and fitted along with an iron shield directly to the spot where his actual arm once was.  He did this so that he could further glorify himself Rome’s honor while on the battlefield.

A recent archaeological discovery located in the Theban Necropolis of Egypt lies some of the first actual evidence that can help support the tales of prosthetics throughout antiquity.  An ancient prosthetic of a wooden toe wrapped in leather was found that may have been used to help assist individuals with balance while standing, walking, and even running.  The wooden toe is estimated to have been created between 1069 and 664 B.C.E making it easily one of the oldest prosthetics to have been found thus far. 

Dr. Jacqueline Finch of the Salford University’s Center for Rehabilitation and Human Performance Research proposed that big toe amputee volunteer’s come forth to try and test the capability of the ancient Egyptian prosthetic.  In order for the prosthetic to be considered a true prosthetic it must first meet a series of tests that help with the ability to withstand human and bodily forces.  Although there are still many tests being conducted, if the wooden toe fits the criteria of what a modern prosthetic meets, it may very well be considered that the Egyptians were the first civilization to create prosthetics.      


Egyptians First to Create Prosthetics” by Elizabeth Anne Bateman

World’s First Prosthetic: Egyptian Mummy’s Fake Toe” by Charles Q. Choi 

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