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.