Archaeology has always fascinated me. I completed my Master’s coursework at Kent State, but the looniness of Academia was not a good fit for me. In hindsight, this is definitely a good thing as the atmosphere on college campi has reached the point where I would almost certainly have been run off by a pack of frothing snowflakes.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t maintained a healthy interest in the topic. So I enjoyed reading about a recent discovery by a team of Italian archaeologists – a skeleton with what appears to be a prosthetic “knife-hand”.
They found that the amputation was the result of blunt force trauma to the forearm, but could not definitively conclude why it had been purposefully removed. “One possibility,” Micarelli and colleagues write, “is that the limb was amputated for medical reasons.” However, considering the Longobards were a warrior culture, “a loss due to fighting is also possible,” they suggest, or perhaps his arm was amputated “due to judicial punishment.”Even more fascinating than the survival of this man in an era before antibiotics is the possibility he had a unique prosthesis. Micarelli and colleagues examined the ends of the man’s forearm bones and found that “there may have been a biomechanical force placed on the stump,” such as the pressure of the bones against a prosthesis.
Additional evidence for a prosthesis comes from the man’s teeth and shoulder. The teeth on the right side of his mouth were so severely worn down that he was suffering from an infection of his jaw bone. And his right shoulder joint, where his upper arm connected, was reoriented in an abnormal way. Both of these suggest that he was “tightening the prosthesis with his teeth.”When the skeleton was first discovered in the early 1990s, archaeologists at the time found “a D-shaped buckle with decomposed organic material (most likely leather) surrounding it.” Across the man’s torso, just at the end of his right arm, lay a knife. The archaeologists’ conclusion: like Merle from the Walking Dead, this early Medieval warrior had a knife-hand prosthesis.
Reading the whole piece, I think that the researchers are a bit flowery in their descriptions of the subject’s potential life, waxing sentimentally about a community supporting a disabled individual. That is looking way beyond the evidence presented. It is entirely possible he was a brigand and a pariah in his community as well.
The evidence for the prosthesis itself is fairly compelling however.