Photo in the News: Mummies' Fake Toes Could Be First Prosthetics

picture of mummy toe
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July 27, 2007—When this mummy lived, she was able to walk like an Egyptian—thanks to a false toe.

The toe, made of wood and leather, may be the world's earliest known functional prosthetic, experts say.

The current earliest known prosthesis is an artificial leg found in Italy that dates back to 300 B.C. That's several hundred years younger than the Egyptian toe, which dates to between 1000 and 600 B.C.

A woman between 50 and 60 used the well-worn prosthetic, and the amputation site of her toe seems to have healed successfully, Jacky Finch, of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.

To see if the toe really works, Finch is gathering a group of volunteers who have lost their right big toes to wear a replica of the Egyptian toe.

Finch will also test a second Egyptian prosthetic toe from the same time period. That toe, made of a sort of papier mache, is on display at the British Museum.

Replicas from both toes will be tested at the Human Performance Laboratory at the nearby University of Salford.

"If we can prove that one or both were functional," Finch said, "then we will have pushed back prosthetic medicine by as much as 700 years."

—Christine Dell'Amore

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