Research of human remains in the necropolis of Thebes-West suggests that ancient Egyptians were the pioneers of amputation and prosthetic surgery (Lancet 2000; 356: 2176-79).

Professor Andreas Nerlich and colleagues from Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, investigated the mummified remains of a woman aged about 50-55 who died between 1550 and 700 BC. Close pathological examination revealed that her right big toe had been amputated during her lifetime, because an intact layer of soft tissue, including skin, covered the amputation site. The missing toe had been replaced by a functional wooden prosthesis, painted dark brown and made up of three separate components.

Previous research had suggested that prostheses were used only to prepare mummies for the afterlife. But, according to Professor Nerlich, these observations provide compelling evidence that the surgical expertise to carry out toe amputations, followed by prosthetic replacement, was present in ancient Egypt. The necropolis of Thebes-West was a...

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