Projects

View of the flexed ankylosed left knee of the prosthesis owner. A, X-ray radiographic image. B, photograph of the knee. © DAI.
Fully functional leg prosthesis from a third/second century BC grave in Turfan, China

‘Standing on one’s own feet’ is synonymous for self-sufficiency. An individual whose foot or lower leg is disabled or lost due to accident or disease ultimately needs cultural intervention for survival. Walking sticks or crutches are the simplest supporting tools helping to regain mobility but keeping hands occupied. The use of a functional artificial shank allows the person to lead a close-to-normal life. Therefore, the invention of a prosthesis was a great advance in medical engineering. Indirect textual evidences, e.g. the Hegesistratus story recorded by Herodotus (484–425 BC) about an artificial wooden foot1,2, suggest that foot prostheses were already known in the Graeco-Roman world in the fifth century BC3. The oldest prosthesis of a big toe was found in Thebes, Egypt and dated around 950–710 BC.4

So far the oldest preserved leg-prosthesis assigned to a man’s skeleton with his right leg missing from the mid-calf was discovered in Capua, Italy, in 1885 and dated to circa 300 BC.1 The ‘Capua leg’ had a wooden core and luxurious bronze sheeting, indicating the owner’s wealthy status. Its functionality has remained uncertain, as the device was lost during the Second World War.1,2

Fig. 1: German and Chinese researchers investigate a leather coat from Hami, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. Photo: Joy Zhou/DAI.
Silk Road Fashion: Clothes as a means of communication in the 1st millennium BC, Eastern Central Asia

A vast communication network began to develop in the 1st Millennium in Eastern Central Asia. The flourishing Silk Road and growing cities brought many Eurasian peoples together and became the scene of their cultural impact exerted on each other, affecting also their clothing.