From Toes to Gas-Powered Arms, A Peek at Prosthetics Through the Ages

By Veronique Greenwood | March 8, 2012 12:43 pm


The prosthetics sported by military veterans and others today are high-tech masterpieces, but they are the evolution of a simple, and age-old, idea. To illustrate that point, the BBC News Health site has gone through the London Science Museum’s wonderful archive of historical medical devices and put together a slideshow of prosthetics dating from seven centuries BCE to the mid-twentieth century. Our favorites: The factory work’s arm with four attachable hammers, the Egyptian toe prosthesis, and the gas-powered arms for a twelve-year-old boy.

The captions leave us wanting more information, though: A fascinating skeletal steel hand (above), like something out of a steampunk novel, is explained with a sentence noting that warfare was a major cause of lost limbs. Luckily, the Science Museum’s site has much meatier stuff on the device, which dates from sometime between 1850 and 1910:

The elbow joint can be moved by releasing a spring, whereas the top joint of the wrist allows a degree of rotation and an up-and-down motion. The fingers can also curl up and straighten out. The leather upper arm piece is used to fix the prosthesis to the remaining upper arm. The rather sinister appearance of the hand suggests the wearer may have disguised it with a glove.

Check out the slideshow here and the Science Museum’s searchable archive here.

Image courtesy of Science Museum

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

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