Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Egyptian Toe Job Volume 54 Number 2, March/April 2001
by Angela M. H. Schuster

While evidence of surgery and amputation has been found in ancient Egyptian human remains, medical researchers from the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich have discovered what they believe to be the first known case of a prosthesis made for use during a person's lifetime. Discovered on a mummy found in the New Kingdom necropolis at Thebes, the prosthesis, a big toe, had been fashioned out of three pieces of wood for a woman thought to have lived during Dynasty XXI or XXIII (1064-724 B.C.). She was 50 to 55 years old at the time of her death.

Examination of her right foot revealed that the amputated big toe had healed over; in its place was a delicately carved wooden prosthesis complete with a toenail. The wooden toe had been attached to the woman's forefoot with a fine linen lace. It is clear from wear on the bottom of the prosthesis, says Andreas G. Nerlich, leader of the research team, that the wooden toe was worn during the woman's lifetime rather than added by embalmers during preparation of the body for burial, a common practice in the New Kingdom. A mummy in England's Manchester Museum had been given wooden legs before being wrapped in linen to appear whole in the afterlife.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America