The world's oldest prosthetic is a big wooden toe

Photo By University of Basel

CAIRO - Likely the world's oldest prosthetic device, an artificial wooden toe was found on a 3,000-year-old mummy of an Egyptian woman in 1997. Now, with the advancement of microscopy, x-ray technology, and computer tomography, researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland have learned a great deal about how the toe functioned, what it's made of, and how it was fabricated.
Similar to today’s prostheses, it appears to be precisely tailored to the woman who wore it - having been refitted to her foot several times. The toe consists of three sections - two of wood and one of leather - and likely aided her ability to walk.
Likely made for someone of great wealth (researchers think a priest's daughter), the lifelike toe was probably made by an expert craftsman. It appears to be designed with both mobility and aesthetic appeal in mind, featuring a hinge designed to mimic joints, along with a respective neatly-trimmed toenail. The woman would have been able to wear the toe with sandals, which were popular shoes at the time.
Researchers think the craftsman was understandably not an expert in prosthetics, but was likely an artisan very familiar with wood.
"There is no other prosthetic device known of this old age displaying the same sophistication," said the University of Basel's Andrea Loprieno-Gnirs. "It is a unique piece."
Researchers say the toe was made with some kind of hardwood, of which they have narrowed down to two specimens.

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Robert Dalheim

Robert Dalheim is an editor at the Woodworking Network. Along with publishing online news articles, he writes feature stories for the FDMC print publication. He can be reached at [email protected].