Fake Egyptian Toes

I came across a really neat article about fake toes in the ancient world, “Ancient Egyptian Fake Toes Earliest Prosthetics”. Two fake toes were confirmed as being the world’s oldest prosthetics from Ancient Egypt. These two wooden toes were found at the necropolis of Thebes. These artificial toes were made of a paper mache like mixture using linen, glue, and plaster called cartonnage. The Greville Chester toe, currently housed in the British Museum, dates back to 600 BC. It is in the shape of a right big toe and part of the right foot. The Tabaketonmut toe is kept at the Egyptian Museum in Ciaro and dates back to somewhere between 950-710 BC. This toe was also a right toe. It was thought that this girl lost her toe to gangrene caused by diabetes. Both toes had holes in them so they could be laced up round the foot or a sandal. Because both toes had significant wear to them, it is believed that they were used in everyday walking unlike other cases of artificial body parts that were made for burial.

I found this article really interesting because I never really thought about how ancient Egyptians would have dealt with a missing body part. These ancient false toes are evidence of medical advancements I was unaware existed in the ancient world. Earlier in the semester I posted an article about ancient fillings, proving that Egyptians of the ancient world were pretty skilled in fixing health problems. These articles have shed some light on the subject. Medical practices of the Egyptians is a topic that seems to spark my interest more and more as time goes on. I’m very impressed by the creativity the ancient people had when dealing with medical issues, especially given the period of time they lived in and the limited resources they had. I hope to learn more about ancient medicine and find out what other neat tricks they had for coping with health problems.


2 thoughts on “Fake Egyptian Toes

  1. This is really fascinating! This is just another one of those inventions that I don’t really think about. Large constructions like temples and the Pyramids are very easy to understand as evidence of Egyptian ingenuity, but a small thing like a fake toe isn’t a prominent example. I wonder at all the smaller, everyday inventions the Egyptians must have had that probably helped and affected more people than royal, symbolic constructions.

    Looking at the article, it’s also amazing that people can reconstruct these inventions and test them to see how effective they are. The article touches on the fact that traditional Egyptian footwear would have been very hard on people who were missing a toe. It’s so interesting that someone came upon this problem and made such an intricate solution. I wonder how widespread these kinds of inventions would have been. I also wonder how many people lost toes and were in need of these kind of inventions. Also, just because toe prosthetics survived doesn’t mean other kinds weren’t available. I wonder if more complex or larger prosthetics were made in Ancient Egypt or if only toes were worked out.

  2. Thanks for pointing out this article! At first I thought that the big toe prostheses may have been more for cosmetic reasons than actually a medical intervention, but after reading the full article I see why you refer to them as medical devices. The gait test completed on the volunteers demonstrated that the ability to wear the replica Egyptian sandals without the big toe prosthesis was really challenging. It is also pretty interesting that both volunteers felt that the wooden toe prosthesis was much more comfortable than the paper-mache like prosthesis. I like to imagine that the time difference seen between these two prostheses and the fact that modern tests show the newer wooden model to be more comfortable means that Egyptian medicine was evolving and becoming more effective.
    I am also curious how often an Egyptian doctor would be faced with such a situation. Would more common workers face this situation of amputation or loss of a limb/phalanx more often? I would imagine since these mummies were much better preserved than a common individual who would be buried – we may not recognize the evidence of prostheses in those individuals. This is especially the case because the use of these organic materials would likely allow them to decompose without leaving much of an identifiable trace.

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