The prosthetic toe belonged to a Egyptian priest's daughter

(University of Basel, LHTT / Matjaž Kačičnik)

Egyptologists from the University of Basel have been studying a 3,000-year-old wooden toe found in a necropolis near Luxor, formerly known as Thebes. 

"This extraordinary piece was a sensational find," Andrea Loprieno-Gnirs of the university's department of ancient civilisationsexternal link told She coordinated the archaeological dig in Sheikh ´Abd el-Qurna, whose oldest tombs date back to the early second millennium BC.

Fitted with a lace-up strap, the shapely prosthetic toe belonged to a priest's daughter, who was buried with it near royalty in an upper-class tomb.

"They often wore sandals, so you can imagine that a well-formed foot was important. The wooden toe shows that she had a certain living standard, and also that there were craftsmen capable of making such prosthetics," Loprieno-Gnirs said.

Using modern microscopy, X-ray technology and computer tomography, researchers could tell that the toe had been refitted several times to ensure the comfort of the wearer, whose big right toe had apparently been amputated. According to Loprieno-Gnirs, scientists are now reviewing whether this was actually the case. No other toes were missing.

For this study the University of Basel is collaborating with the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich.

With funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation, the international Basel team has been studying the cemetery since the end of 2015. 

Old prosthetic toes are rare but not unheard of, said Loprieno-Gnirs, citing another example at the British Museum. Dating back to 600BC, it's made of cartonnage and has a (missing) inlaid toenail.