Artificial toes from Ancient Egypt to Darth Vader and Beyond


Even though the Star Wars character Darth Vader is fictional, he represents the leaps and bounds that technology continues to take in the ever evolving quest to produce the best that prosthetic technology has to offer.

prosthetic toes

This fascinating image of ancient prosthetic technology shows an artificial toe which was found on the foot of an Egyptian mummy that is estimated to date back somewhere between 950 B.C. and 710 B.C and is believed to be the earliest known example of a prosthetic limb or artificial limb.  Housed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the wood and leather artificial toe comprises three parts and would have strapped on to the foot of the owner.

Even though the Star Wars character Darth Vader is fictional, he represents the leaps and bounds that technology continues to take in the ever evolving quest to produce the best that prosthetic technology has to offer.  “It was said that due to the extent of his injuries, Darth Vader was 80% machine (prosthetics) and a mere 20% human.  Both of his legs were severed at the knees, his right arm at the elbow and his left arm just below the shoulder.  (Wikipedia).

Yet, long before Darth Vader hit the big screen in 1977 and way before we ever heard of the Bionic Man, prosthetics that were designed to replace lost limbs offered little in terms of movement and were crafted from materials such as wood and other fibres.

prosthetic technology has been around since ancient times

In the past, prosthetics tended to look very much like the limbs they were designed to replace.  Jacky Finch, lead author of a 2012 study published in the Journal of Prosthetics & Orthotics, describes two different artificial toes emanating from Ancient Egypt that are believed to be the earliest known artificial limbs.

Prosthetics or artificial limbs as such, have been around since ancient times but prosthetic technology did not really take off until the time of the two World Wars.  The ingenuity of engineers was tested by a large number of amputees from war injuries which subsequently resulted in the growth of manufacturers of artificial limbs.

Most people could not afford prosthetic technology or professionally made artificial limbs until the 20th Century

Since most people could not afford professionally made artificial limbs until the 20thCentury, they instead fashioned their own prosthetics out of whatever materials they had to hand.  Believe it or not such consisted of a chair or table leg.

In the late 19th Century people used materials from around the house to design their own prosthetic legs

In the late 19th Century it was not uncommon for people to use materials from around the house, such as wood, nails, textiles and string to design their own prosthetic legs.

Prosthetic arms were slightly more complicated to make in the 1900s

In the 1900s prosthetic arms were slightly more complicated to make.  The image below depicts an arm made by a London based manufacturer fashioned from wood, leather and a type of textile.  A leather strap passes under the undamaged part of the arm like a sling and the wooden hand has a strong rotating wrist with fingers that move.  A small hook in the palm allows the owner to carry or grasp items.

Developing prosthetic technology – beyond Darth Vader

Given how far we have come in prosthetic technological development since ancient times, there should be no doubt in our minds that technology itself advances at a rapid, exponential rate.  What is seen as science fiction often materializes into realities created by advancing technologies.

For example, technologies exist nowadays that allow implants to be placed in the sensory system to control nerve action as opposed to devices being attached to the body with straps or those that are artificially powered.

Information source:  Jacky Finch, lead author of a 2012 study published in the Journal of Prosthetics & Orthotics

Prosthetic examples pictures source:   Science Museum London

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