Ancient Egypt: 3,000-Year-Old Wooden Toe Discovered Near Luxor is World's Oldest Prosthetic

Big wooden toe
The big wooden toe that researchers believe could be the oldest prosthetic device in human history. University of Basel

A big wood-and-leather toe from Egypt is the oldest prosthetic discovered so far, researchers believe, and provides an insight into the world of ancient medicine.

Experts found the 3,000-year-old Greville Chester artificial toe attached to a mummy in a tomb near the city of Luxor in 1997; it has been in the Cairo museum ever since. A re-examination of the toe has presented new findings.

Researchers at the University of Basel found that the wooden toe had been refitted several times to the shape of the woman who wore it, that it had signs of wear and that the user, a priest's daughter, wanted the prosthetic device to be comfortable.

"By using a sophisticated way of fixing the individual parts of the prosthesis to each other, the artificial limb had a balancing effect and gave, to some extent, a freedom of movement," Andrea Loprieno-Gnirs of the University of Basel told CNN.

Prosthetics replace missing limbs or body parts, allowing those who require them to operate freely. Scientists now believe that this toe is the earliest incarnation of a wearable, aritificial limb.

"There is no other prosthetic device known of this old age displaying the same sophistication. It is a unique piece," Loprieno-Gnirs said.

Researchers used modern technologies such as X-rays, microscopy and computer imaging to identify details about the prosthetic.

"The technical know-how can be seen particularly well in the mobility of the prosthetic extension and the robust structure of the belt strap," the researchers said in a press release.

"The fact that the prosthesis was made in such a laborious and meticulous manner indicates that the owner valued a natural look, aesthetics and wearing comfort, and that she was able to count on highly qualified specialists to provide this."

The university's research is unpublished thus far as work continues on the big toe.