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.
Our medical establishment has elaborate rules governing patients’ privacy and ensuring that embarrassing medical details don’t become public. But when King Tut is diagnosed with a disease–or even when researchers turn up something as sensitive as signs of inbreeding–it makes headlines across the world. That’s just not fair to Tut, two researchers are arguing.
Anatomist Frank Rühli and ethicist Ina Kaufmann of the University of Zurich, Switzerland argue that mummy research needs an ethical overhaul. In their paper, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, they note that probing a mummy is an invasive process that can reveal intimate facts, and point out that the mummy never gave informed consent for these procedures. Rühli suggests that mummy researchers should weigh their scientific objectives against the rights and potential wishes of the long-dead individual.
Søren Holm, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, told New Scientist that researchers should ask themselves if they’re motivated by voyeuristic interest.
Holm, a philosopher and bioethicist at the University of Manchester, UK, wants researchers to think about whether their work is motivated by scientific inquiry or simply by curiosity. “Do we really need to sort out the intricate details of Tutankhamun’s family history?” he asks…. “I try to treat mummies like patients,” he says. “I don’t like it if researchers make fun out of them, or show them to gruesome effect.”
At the very least, mummy researchers, that means no dancing around the lab and making mummies reenact Steve Martin’s King Tut routine.
80beats: What Killed King Tut? Incest and Malaria, Study Says
80beats: Scientist Smackdown: Did King Tut Die of Malaria or Sickle Cell?
80beats: X-Rayed Mummies Reveal That Ancient Egyptians Had Heart Disease
Discoblog: Secret Mummy Formula Will Make You Look Young Forever
DISCOVER: 5 Questions for the Mummy Doctor
Image: Wikimedia Commons
In 1991, German hikers found a surprise on an Alpine trail: a dead body. It turned out the man had died some time ago–around 5,000 years earlier. Researchers guessed from his scattered belongings that the iceman had died a lonely death from the cold and an arrow wound in his shoulder. But now, based on the way his belongings were scattered and the timing of his last meal, some archaeologists think the iceman named Ötzi may have had a proper funeral.
Though many previous studies have looked at the body itself, ScienceNOW reports that archaeologist Alessandro Vanzetti and his team looked at all of the iceman’s gear. They used a modeling technique called spatial point pattern analysis to make a map of how Ötzi’s goods–including axe, dagger, quiver, backpack, and unfinished bow–got to their final resting places. Specifically, the analysis determines how Ötzi’s surroundings froze and thawed over time. The researchers say the scattering is consistent with a ceremonial burial and that Ötzi’s tribe may have placed his possessions around him on a nearby stone platform. The study, which ScienceNOW calls “provocative,” appears in Antiquity Journal.
The secret to everlasting youth may be an injection of formalin, alcohol, glycerin, salicylic acid, and zinc salts. Of course, you’d have to be dead first. Those ingredients, scientists now know, made up the embalming formula that has kept the body of a Sicilian toddler in nearly pristine condition for almost a century.
Known as the “Sleeping Beauty” for her still-life-like appearance, Rosalia Lombardo was only two years old when she died of pneumonia in 1920. Her grieving father hired innovative taxidermist and embalmer Alfredo Salafia to preserve her body, which to this day is on view in a glass-fronted coffin in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Italy.
Italian biological anthropologist, Dario Piombino-Mascali of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, finally uncovered the secret of Salafia’s expert mummification technique by tracking down his living relatives. It turns out that Salafia had written down the recipe he used to preserve Rosalia in his personal memoir.