A Brief History of the Development and Evolution of Prosthetic Limbs

Years back, a 3000-year-old mummy was unearthed by archaeologists. However, there was something very unique about this discovery. Buried with the mummy, archaeologists found a wooden, prosthetic toe. This unusual form of a prosthetic was equipped with straps to attach to the foot and leg, while the toe was even made to flex, which is quite extraordinary when you think about the time period in which it was constructed. Though this mummy wasn’t the first ancient artifact to be discovered sporting a prosthetic limb of sorts. In 1910, the Capua Leg was discovered north of Naples, dating back to 300 BC. This European prosthetic was sculpted from wood with an outer layer of bronze. The top portion of the prosthetic was hollowed out with padding at the bottom to accommodate the owner. Additionally, this ancient prosthetic was equipped with thin rods and straps that secured the limb in place. With the proof that varieties of prosthetic limbs date back to the BC eras, it’s truly amazing to see the evolution of prosthetic limbs. Thanks to extraordinary advancements in technology, the development, and design of prosthetics have greatly evolved.

Let’s take a quick view of the timeline of prosthetic advancements:

950-710 BC: Discovered in the 1800s, the earliest-known prosthetic was a toe made from wood and leather.

600 BC: Discovered in the 2000’s was the Greville Chester toe. This unique prosthetic was by ancient Egyptians using a paper maché material called cartonnage, which is a mix of linen, glue, and plaster.

300 BC: The Capua leg–one of the oldest-known prosthetic legs was handcrafted by ancient Romans. The Romans would construct the prosthetic leg by using wood, bronze, and iron.

476-1000 (Middle Ages): The Middle Ages is where the term ‘peg leg’ and ‘hook hand’ originated from. Many times, if a person lost a leg or hand, they would be fitted with wooden, peg leg, or a hook to cover the missing limb. However, the functionality of these prosthetic options was not in the least optimal.

1400s-1800s (The Renaissance): To construct prosthetics, many would use materials such as copper, iron, steel, and wood.

1863-1945: During the times of the American Civil War, hand prosthetics transformed from wooden pieces to cosmetic rubber. Some even had attachments that allowed for finger movement. However, following World War II, most prosthetics were made from a combination of leather and wood.

1970s-1990s: Finally, significant advancements in prosthetics were achieved during this time period. Developers introduced the use of plastics, polycarbonates, resins, and laminates to the world, allowing for a lighter and manageable design. Additionally, synthetic sockets were created in order to provide patients with custom comfort.

2000-2014: In the early 2000s, the idea of high-performance prosthetics were brought to life. Using carbon fiber and wealth of advanced technology, developers were able to create prosthetics that are motorized and adaptable to any terrain and activity.

As you can see, the development of prosthetics have come a long way and are still being updated and optimized. Alabama Artificial Limb & Orthopedic Service continues to update and upgrade our CAD/CAM software and hardware to provide the highest level of precision to the prosthetics we fabricate. AALOS has remained a technology leader in the O&P field with our investment in the Tracer CAD system, considered by many to be the next generation of computer imaging and fabrication. Click here to learn more about Prosthetics from AALOS.