A buckle and part of a strap were found with the metal pieces. Credit: Border Archaeology

Scientists Solve Mystery of Iron Strap and Buckle Unearthed in Medieval Cemetery

(Read the article on one page)

Archaeologists digging at Gloucester Cathedral, UK, have unearthed a strap for a medieval “false leg.” The metal pieces from the prosthesis band were discovered with a skeleton in the old lay cemetery of the church. The excavation is part of the ongoing Project Pilgrim scheme to redevelop parts of the cathedral.

Clogged in Mud

The pieces, including a metal buckle and a piece of the strap, were uncovered in the dig south-east of the building's South Porch. Helen Jeffrey from the cathedral told BBC , “We expected to find some burial sites and skeletons as it used to be a lay cemetery and these little pieces of iron were found in a grave with a skeleton. It was just a real puzzler and we had it taken away to be analyzed - something similar is on display in London.” Experts examining the new finds claim that traces of bone and perhaps wood, found with the band, imply that the device supported a prosthetic leg. Helen Jeffrey said, “We are astonished they found it, it was clogged in mud and looked like little pieces of stones.” The metal object is destined to go on display at the cathedral in the near future.

The Long History of Prosthetics

If you think that prosthetics are the product of contemporary science and medicine, then it’s time for you to reconsider. As DHWTY reports in a 2014 article at Ancient Origins , the origins of prosthetics has a truly ancient history. The oldest known prosthesis that is in existence is from ancient Egypt. In 2000, researchers in Cairo unearthed a prosthetic big toe made of wood and leather which was attached to the almost 3000 year old mummy of an Egyptian noblewoman. As the ancient Egyptians perceived the afterlife as a perfect version of this life, it would have been important for them to go there with their body parts intact. This is evident in the fact that a variety of prosthetic devices have been found on mummies. These include feet, legs, noses, and even penises.

A 3000-year-old prosthetic big toe.

A 3000-year-old prosthetic big toe. Photo source:  Discovery.

Centuries later, during the zenith of the Roman Empire, we get introduced to the use of iron as a material for a prosthetic device. More specifically, Marcus Sergius was a Roman general who had lost his right hand during the second Punic War. According to the sources, Sergius had a prosthetic arm made of iron that allowed him to hold his shield. Despite these early advances in ‘prosthetics technology’, there was not much development in this area in the millennia that followed. For instance, iron prosthetic arms and legs were still in use during the Middle Ages, which was more than a thousand years after Marcus Sergius.

Artificial leg, England, 1890-1950.

Artificial leg, England, 1890-1950. Credit: Science Museum, London

However, with the tremendous evolution of technology, the progress that took place during the 20 th century is undeniable. Today's devices are much lighter, made of plastic, aluminum and composite materials to provide amputees with the most functional devices.  In addition to lighter, patient-molded devices, the advent of microprocessors, computer chips and robotics in today's devices are designed to return amputees to the lifestyle they were accustomed to, rather than to simply provide basic functionality or a more pleasing appearance. Prostheses are more realistic with silicone covers and are able to mimic the function of a natural limb more now than at any time before.

Modern-day prosthesis

Modern-day prosthesis ( CC by SA 3.0 )

Top image: A buckle and part of a strap were found with the metal pieces. Credit: Border Archaeology

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article