Chinese Man with Fused Knee used a Prosthetic Leg with a Horse Hoof Tip 2,200 Years Ago
A man of modest means who lived in China 2,200 years ago had a deformed leg and compensated with a prosthesis with a horse hoof on the end of it. The discovery was made in a tomb in an ancient cemetery in Turpan (Turfan.)
In the tomb with the older man was a young woman. Researchers are unsure if they knew each other, reports Live Science in an article about the find.
“The excavators soon came to find that the left leg of the male occupant is deformed, with the patella, femur and tibia [fused] together and fixed at 80 [degrees],” the researchers wrote in an article in the journal Chinese Archaeology, according to Live Science.
The archaeologists said the man was probably of modest station in life. He was buried with ordinary grave goods, including a ceramic jar and cups, a wooden plate and bowls. Conversely, rich people or people of high status around the world and in ancient China have been buried with rich grave goods, including even gold and jewels.
The man may have been a member of the people known as the Gushi, about whom little is known apart from their habitation of Turpan:
“As recorded in the Xiyu zhuan (the Account of the Western Regions) of the Hanshu (Book of Han, by Ban Gu), during the middle of the Western Han, there lived in the Turfan Basin the Gushi population, who constitutes one of the ‘Thirty-six States of the Western Regions'’ of the Qin and Han Dynasties,” the authors wrote in Chinese Archaeology.
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After the man died, someone reopened the tomb and placed the body of a woman of about 20 in it, disturbing the man’s remains. Two other studies of the same grave published in other journals say the man was about 5 feet 7 inches tall (1.7 meters) and was 50 to 60 years old at death.
A few different conditions may have caused the left knee joint to fuse, Discovery News reports, including inflammation in or on the joint, trauma or rheumatism. At some point in his life the man was infected with tuberculosis, which may have also resulted in a bony growth that caused the fusion.
Little is known about the man or his people, possibly the Gushi culture, except they were fine horsemen and had a small state in the Turfan Basin. The photo is a relief from a Han Dynasty tomb. (Gary Lee Todd/CC BY SA 4.0)
“The smooth surface of the bones affected by the ankyloses [joint fusion] suggests the active inflammatory process stopped years before death," researchers wrote in the journal Bridging Eurasia.
X-ray and photograph of the flexed ankylosed left knee of the prosthesis owner. (DAI)
Because the top of the prosthetic lower leg was severely worn, researchers speculate the man used it for a long time. Without the device it would have been difficult for him to walk or ride because he couldn’t straighten his leg, they said. The prosthesis allowed him to reach the floor, and the tough, durable horses’ hoof was his virtual foot.
The leg was made of poplar wood and has 14 holes, seven on each side that allowed him to attach it to his upper leg with straps. “The lower part of the prosthetic leg is rendered into a cylindrical shape, wrapped with a scrapped ox horn and tipped with a horsehoof, which is meant to augment its adhesion and abrasion,” the archaeologists wrote.
Details of the leg prosthesis. (DAI)
The researchers used radiocarbon dating to ascertain the tomb dates to around 200 BC. A prosthetic leg found in Capua, Italy, is the only other known leg prosthesis dating back that far. That leg, which was made of bronze, was destroyed in a World War II bombing raid. Earlier in history, in ancient Egypt, people also made prosthetic toes.
Featured image: The prosthesis of the man with a fused knee, femur and tibia helped him walked, which would have been difficult for him otherwise. (Chinese Archaeology photo)
By: Mark Miller