Hole’s Essentials of Human Anatomy & Physiology, 11th Edition
The mummy’s toe. She lived between 1069 and 664 b.c. in Thebes, a city in ancient Egypt. Only pieces of her skeleton remain, held in place with plaster, glue, and linen. Yet, the telltale bones reveal a little of what her life was like.
The shape of the pelvic bones indicates that the person was female. She was 50 to 60 years old when she died, according to the way the bony plates of her skull fit together and the lines of mineral deposition in a well-preserved tooth. Among the preserved bones from the skull, pelvis, upper limbs, and right lower limbs, the right big toe stands out, for it ends in a prosthesis, a manufactured replacement for a skeletal part. Was it purely cosmetic, or did it work?
The mummy’s toe tip is wooden and painted a dark brown, perhapsto blend in with her skin color. A long part and two smaller parts anchor the structure to the stump. Seven leather strings once attached it to the foot, and it even bears a fake nail. Connective tissue and skin grew over the prosthesis, revealing that her body had accepted the replacement part, and the shape of the prosthesis was remarkably like that of a real toe. Signs of wear indicate that it was indeed used. Modern-day scientists made replicas of the toe and volunteers who were missing the same toe tried them out, demonstrating that the mummy’s toe must have been crucial for balance and locomotion. The replacement toe is evidence of sophisticated medical technology. Modern-day medical sleuths obtained computerized tomography (CT) scans of the remnants of the mummy. They detected poor mineral content in the toe, plus calcium deposits in the largest blood vessel, the aorta, suggesting impaired circulation to the feet. Perhaps the mummy in life suffered from type 2 diabetes mellitus, which can impede circulation to the toes. If gangrene had set in, healers might have amputated the affected portion of the toe, replacing it with a very reasonable facsimile.
The ancient Egyptians made other replacement parts, including ears, noses, feet, and lower limbs. Today prosthetic toes are made of silicones, which are plastic-like materials. People use them who have lost digits to injury, cancer, or, perhaps like the ancient Egyptian woman, diabetes.
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