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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Unbelivable - A wooden toe: Swiss Egyptologists study 3000-year- old prosthesis


Toe prosthesis of a female burial from the
Theban tomb TT95, early first millennium
BC. Egyptian Museum Cairo, JE100016a.
Credit: University of Basel, LHTT. Image:
Matjaž Kacicnik
It is likely to be one of the oldest prosthetic
devices in human history: Together with other
experts, Egyptologists from the University of
Basel have reexamined an artificial wooden
big toe. The find is almost 3000 years old and
was discovered in a female burial from the
necropolis of Sheikh ´Abd el-Qurna close to
Luxor. This area is currently being studied
using state-of-the-art methods.
The international team investigated the one-
of-a-kind prosthesis using modern microscopy,
X-ray technology, and computer tomography.
They were able to show that the wooden toe
was refitted several times to the foot of its
owner, a priest's daughter. The researchers
also newly classified the used materials and
identified the method with which the highly
developed prosthesis was produced and
utilized. Experts from the Egyptian Museum in
Cairo where the prosthetic device was
brought to after it had been found -- and the
Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at the
University of Zurich were also involved in this
study.
The artificial toe from the early first
millennium BC testifies to the skills of an
artisan who was very familiar with the human
physiognomy. The technical know-how can be
seen particularly well in the mobility of the
prosthetic extension and the robust structure
of the belt strap. The fact that the prosthesis
was made in such a laborious and meticulous
manner indicates that the owner valued a
natural look, aesthetics and wearing comfort
and that she was able to count on highly
qualified specialists to provide this.
Life histories of a burial ground
The prosthesis from the Early Iron Age was
found in a plundered shaft tomb that was cut
into the bedrock of an older, long time idle
burial chapel at the graveyard hill of Sheikh
´Abd el-Qurna to the west of Luxor. This
chapel belongs to a group of monumental
rock-cut tombs from the late 15th century BC
which were built for a small upper class that
was close to the royal family. Since the end
of 2015, the University of Basel has been
studying this ancient Egyptian elite cemetery,
its long history of usage, and surroundings.
For this project, funded by the Swiss National
Science Foundation, microanalytic,
scientifically oriented methods, as well as
precision technology for surveying and
photography were used. The researchers are
looking into the materiality of archaeological
remains and are thus gaining insight into the
life histories of building structures and
objects. These material biographies can
provide information about the manufacturing
practices, usages, personal skills, habits and
preferences of people who were in contact
with these objects.
A necropolis in 3-D
The oldest known tombs from Sheikh ´Abd el-
Qurna date back to the early second
millennium BC. The cemetery saw its heyday
in the 15th century BC. However, many of
these rock-cut structures were reused and in
parts remodeled several times for burials
during the first millennium BC. Much later,
they served as dwellings mostly for locals
a
process that began with the early Christian
hermits and only ended in the early 20th
century.
Together with the experts for geodesy and
geology from the ETH Zurich, the Basel team
of archaeologists is scientifically assessing
the natural and artificial structures of the
excavation area and its surroundings. The
specialists are currently developing geometric
precise digital elevation, landscape, and
architecture models for this area. These will
then be combined to an archaeological and
geological 3-D map that will illustrate the
morphology of the terrain as well as the
investigated subterranean structures. On that
basis, the researchers want to reconstruct and
simulate the development of the cemetery
and its use phases.

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