Two artificial big toes, one found attached to the foot of an ancient Egyptian mummy, may have been the world's earliest prosthetic body parts, says the scientist who tested replicas on volunteers.
University of Manchester researcher Jacky Finch has shown that a three-part wood and leather artefact housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo along with a second one on display in the British Museum helped their toeless owners walk like Egyptians.
The toes date from before 600 BC, predating what was hitherto thought to be the earliest known practical prosthesis - the Roman Capula Leg - by several hundred years, the journal Lancet reports.
Finch, who is based in the University of Manchester's KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, recruited two volunteers whose right big toe had been lost in order to test exact replicas of the artificial toes in the Gait Lab at Salford University, according to a Manchester statement.
Finch said, "To be classed as true prosthetic devices, any replacement must satisfy several criteria. The material must withstand bodily forces so that it does not snap or crack with use.
"The big toe is thought to carry some 40% of the bodyweight and is responsible for forward propulsion, although those without it can adapt well," Finch added.
The volunteers were asked to wear the toes with replica Egyptian sandals and, while neither design was expected to perform exactly like a real big toe, one of the volunteers was able to walk extremely well with both artificial toes.