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ANZ J Surg. 2007 Dec;77(12):1114-9.

Paré and prosthetics: the early history of artificial limbs.

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Department of Orthopaedic and Hand Surgery, Wellington School of Medicine, Wellington, New Zealand.


There is evidence for the use of prostheses from the times of the ancient Egyptians. Prostheses were developed for function, cosmetic appearance and a psycho-spiritual sense of wholeness. Amputation was often feared more than death in some cultures. It was believed that it not only affected the amputee on earth, but also in the afterlife. The ablated limbs were buried and then disinterred and reburied at the time of the amputee's death so the amputee could be whole for eternal life. One of the earliest examples comes from the 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt in the reign of Amenhotep II in the fifteenth century bc. A mummy in the Cairo Museum has clearly had the great toe of the right foot amputated and replaced with a prosthesis manufactured from leather and wood. The first true rehabilitation aids that could be recognized as prostheses were made during the civilizations of Greece and Rome. During the Dark Ages prostheses for battle and hiding deformity were heavy, crude devices made of available materials - wood, metal and leather. Such were the materials available to Ambroise Paré who invented both upper-limb and lower-limb prostheses. His 'Le Petit Lorrain', a mechanical hand operated by catches and springs, was worn by a French Army captain in battle. Subsequent refinements in medicine, surgery and prosthetic science greatly improved amputation surgery and the function of prostheses. What began as a modified crutch with a wooden or leather cup and progressed through many metamorphoses has now developed into a highly sophisticated prosthetic limb made of space-age materials.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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