60-Second Science

Mummy's False Toe May Have Been Functional Prosthetic

A replica of an articulated prosthetic toe found attached to a mummy in the Cairo Museum will be tested on living volunteers to see if it assists in walking. If it's functional, it would be the oldest such prosthetic known. Steve Mirsky reports.

The earliest known practical prothesis is an artificial leg dating back to 300 BC.  But British researchers are checking out a significantly older wood and leather fake toe found still attached to its mummy in the Cairo Museum.  They want to see if it served more than a cosmetic purpose and perhaps was important in helping its owner,  ya know: (Walk Like An Egyptian Music.)  Sorry.  The mummy has been informally dubbed…Toe-tankhamun.  Sorry again.  What’s particularly interesting about the false toe is that it’s articulated, and it shows signs of wear.  So it may indeed have helped the woman who wore it walk better.  And it dates from somewhere between 600 and 1000 BC, making it older than the so-called Roman Capua leg, which was made of bronze and survived the Punic Wars, but didn’t make it through World War II.  The leg was destroyed during the bombing of London.  Anyway, scientists have made an exact duplicate of the mummy’s digit to test on volunteers who are missing a right big toe, to see whether it’s really functional.  That research is afoot.

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