How long have people used prosthetic limbs?

Advances in prosthetics have accelerated in the last 150 years, but the history of artificial limbs goes back much further.

How long have people used prosthetic limbs? © Getty Images

A 3,000-year-old, wood-and-leather toe found on an Egyptian mummy – and the discovery in Italy of an artificial leg dating back to 300 BC – show that manufacturing prosthetic limbs was already possible in the ancient world.

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In the fifth century BC, Greek historian Herodotus wrote of a Persian soldier who had replaced his lost foot with a wooden version.

Then 500 years later, Pliny the Elder gives the earliest record of a prosthetic hand in his account of Roman general Marcus Sergius, who replaced a lost hand with one made of iron in order to grasp his shield. These early prosthetics were of obvious value to those injured in battle.

Centuries of war saw technological advancements into the early modern era, including improved devices for adjustment and articulation of joints, and the use of lighter materials such as leather.

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This article was first published in the May 2016 issue of History Revealed.