You want to make tea from my what now?
Birth control can be a hassle—but as a review of the history of contraception reveals, modern methods don’t hold a candle to the hoops that people used to jump through to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Gents, ever complained about the mandate to, as a U.S. government film instructed soldiers during World War II, “put it on before you put it in”? Perhaps you’d prefer a condom made of fish or animal intestine that ties on with a ribbon, like the ones men used in the 1600s. You could store it in a box by the bed to reuse again and again! Oh, but if you grab the contents of that box for protection when you sneak out to visit a possibly pox- or clap-ridden prostitute, just remember: while sperm can’t fit through the pores in an animal intestine, viruses can. (At least you’d be saving the woman from having to chug mercury, a last-ditch 17th century method of terminating an unwanted pregnancy.)
And ladies, grossed out by the notion of shielding your cervix with animal dung? Try some fruit instead: one 1550 BC recipe for a vaginal suppository included acacia fruit, which has been shown to prevent pregnancy in lab mice—that is, when they eat the seeds. And in the 18th century, Casanova fashioned a cervical cap from half a pulped lemon (perhaps to avoid responsibility for child support), and the combination of blockage and acidity made this a fairly effective method.
One Egyptologist isn’t ready to close the book on the tale of two toes. Once thought to be mere ornamentation for the afterlife, the artificial toes found on two ancient Egyptian mummies may actually be the earliest known prosthetic limbs.
The fake toes in question are the Greville Chester and Tabaketenmut toes. The Greville toe dates to before 600 BC and is made of cartonnage (similar to papier mâché); the Tabaketenmut toe could date as far back as 710 BC and is made mostly of wood, though researchers believe it also contains leather, and it even has a hinge for flexibility.
Jacky Finch, an Egyptologist at the University of Manchester, UK, had a hunch that these artificial toes weren’t just for looks. Not only were the toes rigorously correct in their anatomy, but they also showed signs of wear and tear–which prompted an experiment that has been over 2,000 years in the making.