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Austrian grave reveals a 1,500 year old prosthetic leg

Ian Harvey

In 2013, a skeleton that was buried in the 6th century was excavated in Hemmaberg Austria by archaeologists from the Austrian Archaeological Institute.

However, after digging up the 1,500-year-old skeleton, they found a foreign device close to the body of a middle-aged man. What was odd was that the man’s left foot and ankle were missing and in their place there was a wooden prosthetic. In place of the foot, there was an iron ring and wooden remains. Archaeologists then interpreted that he actually had been using, and was buried with, a wooden foot.

Previously, the earliest prosthetic devices known were used in the Ancient Egyptian Empire. They were also used in the Greco-Roman period as well. One of the archaeologists on the job, Michaela Binder, said that when he and his team had found what looked like a prosthetic, he knew the dig was something special. Finding a prosthetic from that age is something extremely rare.

The man’s remains were found in a group of smaller graves that were occupied by smaller children. The man was also buried with a sword and a brooch.

Obviously, over the years, the wooden prosthetic slowly deteriorated, leaving the iron ring that was used to keep the piece in place. There was also staining on the man’s lower leg bones which would have been caused by the pouch used to strap the prosthetic to the man’s leg.

This suggests that when the man lost his foot he didn't use a prosthetic right away. Photo Source: Austrian Archaeological Institute

This suggests that when the man lost his foot he didn’t use a prosthetic right away. Photo Source: Austrian Archaeological Institute

One of the major reasons why finding prosthetics is so rare is because not many people survived the removing the limb or died shortly after the surgery from complications.

Binder said that losing a foot and having it cut through the bone instead of at the joint would have lacerated a lot of blood vessels and caused a lot of bleeding. The man most likely died from an infection. He added that this is why there haven’t been many prosthetics found in graves or on remains; the victim died right after the amputation and didn’t need a prosthetic any more.

He also expressed his awe when he said that it is amazing this man survived the surgery and found a prosthetic that allowed to him move around, considering that time period.

Findings suggests that when the man lost his foot he didn't use a prosthetic right away. Photo Source: Austrian Archaeological Institute

Findings suggests that when the man lost his foot he didn’t use a prosthetic right away.
Photo Source: Austrian Archaeological Institute

The first-ever prosthetic foot was found on an Egyptian mummy. The person’s big toe had been removed and replaced with a wooden one. However, the earliest evidence of a prosthetic leg was found in a Roman grave in Italy’s Santa Maria di Capua from 300 BC.

Other Egyptian mummies have been found with prosthetic toes made from wood or a strong plastic linen such as that used to make funeral masks.

After finding the body, Binder did a radiography and a CT-scan. He found that the density of both leg bones differed. He said this is probably because the man who died did not use a prosthetic right away after his injury. Researchers are still trying to figure out how and why the man’s foot was removed in the first place. They do, however, believe that it was either lost in an accident or removed in an act of violence. Amputation was a form of torture during the 6th century.

The first evidence was found on the foot of an Egyptian mummy, as researchers found a big toe had been removed an replace with a wooden one. Photo Source: Science Museum

The first evidence was found on the foot of an Egyptian mummy, as researchers found a big toe had been removed an replace with a wooden one. Photo Source: Science Museum

However, Binder believes that the man was probably not punished for his crimes, since he was buried by a church. He was most likely a man that held high status, since he was found buried with a sword. Another thing is that if the man had been punished for a crime he most likely would not have been given a prosthetic after losing his foot.

After looking at the CT-scan Binder also found clues that the man could have been a victim of a blunt force trauma that caused a large hematoma that eventually would have healed. The osteoarthritis and overused muscles in his hips and spine suggest that the man rode horseback. This could mean that the man was in a war-related trauma. If he had been riding his horse into battle, an enemy on the ground would have targeted the man’s foot, severing it in order to get him off of the horse.