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posted by charon on Thursday May 18, @12:19AM   Printer-friendly
from the arrr-matey dept.

Projects like these are steadily helping people with prostheses to move more naturally and easily than ever before. But what few people appreciate is just how far back this field actually goes.

If you were thinking a couple of hundred years, or maybe since the medieval era, you wouldn't even be close. Amputations and prostheses date back to ancient times, and saw advances that were heralded as no less life-changing then as they are today. It's a fascinating story of gods, gladiators and the limits of human endurance that adds a whole other dimension to understanding this discipline.

[...] Whether survivors in the ancient era were injured in battle by a blade, spear or missile, or in camp by frostbite or trench foot, their arms, legs and extremities were incredibly vulnerable. In Ancient Greece, they benefited from simple surgical amputations as far back as the late fifth or early fourth century BC. The Hippocratic treatise On Joints attests to rudimentary amputations of fingers, toes, hands and feet, but cautions against amputating an entire arm or leg.

Around the same time, orthopaedic surgery had refined to the point that prostheses were starting to become available as alternatives to staffs, sticks and crutches. We see this in the account of the Graeco-Persian War (499-449BC) by the historian Herodotus, for instance. Herodotus recounts how the Persian diviner Hegesistratus, when imprisoned by the Spartans, amputated part of his own foot to escape his shackles, then procured a wooden replacement.

Egypt was using similar technology around the same period. Prosthetic toes made from wood or layers of fibre known as cartonnage have been recovered from burial sites, such as the one from a mummy near Luxor pictured below. They show signs of wear and tear, indicating that they were functional rather than purely cosmetic.

Technological, scientific, and medical progress are not as linear as we suppose.

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  • (Score: 2) by Dunbal on Thursday May 18, @01:19AM (3 children)

    by Dunbal (3515) on Thursday May 18, @01:19AM (#511481)

    Technological, scientific, and medical progress are not as linear as we suppose.

    Yeah when you read a little more you'll find out about this period called the Dark Ages where progress seemed to actually go backwards. Amazing isn't it?

    • (Score: 2) by archfeld on Thursday May 18, @01:36AM

      by archfeld (4650) <> on Thursday May 18, @01:36AM (#511487) Journal

      The Dark Ages, isn't that when we put the church in charge of things ? []

      For the NSA : Explosives, guns, assassination, conspiracy, primers, detonators, initiators, main charge, nuclear charge
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 18, @01:38AM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 18, @01:38AM (#511488)

      Yes the 21st century is leading us right back into medieval feudalism. If you don't live in a Tech Corp company town by now, your days are numbered. Kill yourself now to avoid a painfully slow death in crippling poverty.

      • (Score: 2) by Dunbal on Thursday May 18, @10:55AM

        by Dunbal (3515) on Thursday May 18, @10:55AM (#511630)

        In a way the internet IS. You get all these anti-vaxxers and 9/11 conspiracists and flat earthers and "the moon landing was a hoax" people. They all have a voice thanks to the internet, and it's shocking to watch this willful ignorance spread.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by AthanasiusKircher on Thursday May 18, @03:57AM

    by AthanasiusKircher (5291) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 18, @03:57AM (#511533) Journal

    The links TFA provides are somewhat odd. Rather than linking to the actual account of a prosthetic from something like Herodotus, they link to a Powerpoint presentation on Herodotus's general info and his accounts of the Persian Wars... nothing to do with prosthetics.

    Anyhow, if you want actual sources for this stuff:

    Hippocrates, On Joints []
    Herodotus, account from the Histories of Hegesistratus and his brief reference to a wooden foot []
    Pliny the Elder's account of Marcus Sergius's iron hand [] during the Punic Wars

    Not much info to go on there, which I guess is why they linked irrelevant broad informational articles and Powerpoint slides, rather than the original sources.

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by ledow on Thursday May 18, @07:30AM (1 child)

    by ledow (5567) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 18, @07:30AM (#511581) Homepage

    Are we honestly in any way surprised that the people who built Athens before the common era, or the pyramids hundreds of years before that, or who had huge sprawling cities full of people some of whom were designing clocks and mechanisms as complex as anything we could make even a thousand years later, were aware that you could sever limbs if they were troublesome, and that - if it worked without infection - it might be an idea to put something on the stump to even things back up so you could at least hobble or put your drink in something without having to use the other working limb differently to normal?

    What the hell kind of civilisation do these people think the ancients lived in?

    Aqueducts but "oh no, look, my arm is black and dying and dropping off, I'll suppose I'll just leave it like that and suffer the consequences".
    Pyramids but "Hey, I have no foot, I'll just hop everywhere."
    Libraries containing the entirety of human knowledge but "Ah, fuck it, I'll just wait for this infection to spread to my entire body and kill me".

    Yes, the Dark Ages were a slide away from that stuff, but - knowing this - why are we surprised that people who lived in cities of carved marble and stone weren't able to come to the simplest of conclusions about basic anatomy?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 18, @03:55PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 18, @03:55PM (#511718)

      Libraries containing the entirety of human knowledge

      The Christians took care of that, so it won't be a bother any more.